Ring a ding ding

It’s the year of the threequels—2007 has already seen the release of Spider-Man III and the third Pirates of the Caribbean movie, and Shrek the Third is on its way. This week, it’s the turn of what might be called a thirteenquel: Ocean’s 13.

We’re on 13 because the series started with Ocean’s 11, director Steven Soderbergh’s remake of the 1960 caper movie that was a vehicle for Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and other assorted chums of the Rat Pack. In it, a bunch of former World War II comrades decide to rob five Las Vegas casinos in one night.

You’d have thought the idea of robbing casinos would have been bad business (or at least negative marketing) for Sinatra, seeing as he spent so much time in Las Vegas, singing and partying and generally helping the place develop an image of swingingly sophisticated fun.
But then Sinatra always was a law unto himself. Maybe the Mob paid him to glamourise criminality in Ocean’s 11, to make it all seem like little more than stylish high jinks.

Soderbergh’s Ocean’s 13 winks towards the Sinatra heritage by making a big deal out of those Las Vegas veterans who go back long enough to have shaken Sinatra’s hand. One of them is Ruben Tishkoff (Elliot Gould) and another is Willy Bank (Al Pacino). But the essential bond between men who have in common the extraordinary experience of having shaken Sinatra’s hand is broken here by Bank, who defrauds Tishkoff—and the old Sinatra-shaker promptly has a heart attack.

Now, Tishkoff being a sort of mentor to Danny Ocean (George Clooney) and his band of merry thieves, Bank has to be humbled by way of revenge for being such a nasty person. The movie goes to great lengths, helped by Pacino’s powerhouse scenery chewing, to demonstrate that Bank is not a nice guy. Ocean and his friends, all 13 of them, are presumably nice people, though they make their living by stealing. At least they are charming and generally well-dressed, unlike Bank, who has a fake orange tan and a bad dye-job of a hairdo.

And so the scene is set for more fantastically complex plotting and technobabble as Ocean et al plot Bank’s comeuppance; it will focus on his brand new skyscraper casino, just built by teams of computerised wizards in the centre of Vegas. Ocean and his friends have more shimmering technology than the FBI, the CIA and the American army put together, but still they face enormous obstacles. We know, though, that they will somehow manage to pull off their heist, as they did in the last two movies, so we’re not too stressed about that.

Or very thrilled by it, really. This is a remarkably thrill-free, stress-free thriller, if it is a thriller; perhaps it’s a comedy that is keeping its laugh count down so as not to impair its cool. Cool it has, but the most fun to be had is in the emotional and physical torture of the man who evaluates casinos for star ratings.

Ocean’s 13 is reasonably stylish, amusing and watchable—certainly more so than Ocean’s 12, which was even less intelligible and had a sort of travelogue sheen as the team went a-robbin’ in Europe. At least now we’re back in the neon glare of Vegas itself, where everything is so trashy that simply to wear a tuxedo is to make a man look very classy indeed.

Clooney can certainly wear a tuxedo. He may be the new Sinatra, though that would require being able to sing. He has already made a stab at being the new Cary Grant, and in the other Soderbergh movie this year, The Good German, he’s both the new Joseph Cotton and the new Humphrey Bogart. Which makes one suspect that paying tribute to old Hollywood is all very well, but something new and fresh might be a good idea. Perhaps he should try being the new George Clooney.

Shaun de Waal

Shaun de Waal

Shaun de Waal has worked at the Mail & Guardian since 1989. He was literary editor from 1991 to 2006 and chief film critic for 15 years. He is now editor-at-large. Recent publications include Exposure: Queer Fiction, 25 Years of the Mail & Guardian and Not the Movie of the Week. Read more from Shaun de Waal

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