Steve Soderbergh's neo-Rat Pack franchise gets back on track in this third installment, which returns Danny Ocean and Co. to Las Vegas after the misguided European vacation of OCEAN'S TWELVE (2004). Better still, the smug "It's our party and you're not invited" vibe of the second film is gone, replaced by a fizzy sense of shady glamour that makes an insanely complicated story of scams and swindles go down as smoothly as an ice-cold Bellini.
The high jinks begin with Rusty Ryan (Brad Pitt) answering silky smooth con man Danny Ocean's (George Clooney) summons: Danny's mentor, beloved old Vegas hand Reuben Tishkoff (Elliott Gould), has made a rookie error and gotten royally screwed by partnering with weaselly Willy Bank (Al Pacino) to build the Midas, the luxury casino hotel to end all luxury casino hotels. The surprise of Bank's callous betrayal — Reuben thought they had a bond, as two of the few players who've been around long enough to have shaken Frank Sinatra's hand — sends Reuben into a state of shock.
Danny and Rusty summon the tribe and concoct a way to get Bank where it hurts: in the Bank — the former Midas — which towers over the Strip like strands of crooked DNA. They decide on a two-pronged attack. The first is easy: Bank has scored a coveted Five Diamond Hotel Award for his other casino hotels, and desperately wants one for the Bank. All it takes to derail that is a fake evaluator — the gang's own Saul Bloom (Carl Reiner) — to divert the attention of Bank and his staff while the real evaluator (David Paymer) is shunted off to a disgusting room and mistreated by a mix of bribable employees and ringers. The second, a tougher proposition, involves rigging every game to pay off for a few brief but ruinous minutes, then getting the unwitting winners out the door before they can lose it all back to the house. Knowing gamblers as he does, Ocean reckons that nothing short of an act of God will dislodge them in the middle of a winning streak. Something like, say, an earthquake. Dice are loaded back in the hellish Mexican factory where they're produced. Card shufflers, slot machines and roulette wheels are hacked. Linus Caldwell (Matt Damon) dons a fake nose to seduce Bank's ruthless right-hand woman (Ellen Barkin) into inattention at a key moment, and longtime adversary Terry Benedict (Andy Garcia), is drawn into the scheme when they need funds to fake that act of God.
Screenwriters Brian Koppelman and David Levien (ROUNDERS) keep the high-tech nonsense humming along, but the real draw is the crackling banter. The absence of Julia Roberts — dead weight in OCEAN'S ELEVEN and quite possibly TWELVE's most self-satisfied irritations — is a plus, and Ellen Barkin gamely pulls the film's distaff weight, flashing her crooked smile and wielding her killer legs like scimitars. Sleek, stylish and ephemeral as a fireworks display, OCEAN'S THIRTEEN is the definition of light, but not totally brainless, entertainment. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh