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Ocean's Eleven
. "Ocean's Thirteen"

Forgive me, I lost count. But I'll take it on faith that there's thirteen (and I'll do the same when it's fourteen). Whatever the count, Danny Ocean's boys are back and they're as cool, funny and effective as ever.

What's got them riled up this trip is the way their beloved mentor Reuben Tishkoff (Eliott Gould) has been cheated by the sub-moral egomaniac Willy Bank (Al Pacino), consigning the too-trusting industrialist into the poor house while his ex-partner renames what was once their dual-held casino and runs it in his own unscrupulous way.

When this puts Reuben on his possible death bed with a myocardial infarction, Ocean and his gang picks up on it and immediately assembles around Reuben's comatose form at the hospital. The doctor advises that he's on a threshold from which only a will to live will move him toward survival. Ocean (George Clooney), Rusty Ryan (Brad Pitt), Linus Caldwell (Matt Damon) and the rest of the boys are agreed: only payback will revive their man. And the only payback that his antagonist will understand is the total financial destruction of his empire, in the form of the most palatial attention-getter on the strip, his hotel-casino.

Boasting a year-after-year 5-star rating and the 5-diamond tiara that goes with the honor, Banks has installed the most advanced security system known to geeks. In essence, the magnificent designed (for real) twin spiral-towered building is an impregnable fortress, with the diamonds in a glass enclosure on the top floor that couldn't be breached by the Terminator. As the so-called "soft" opening is approaching (rather than the "official" one) two intense programs are unfolding.

Banks, with the committed help of his right-hand assistant Abigail Sponder (Ellen Barkin, and the only femme to supply glamor among the principal players) is putting his final touches in place; and Ocean's men are plotting the ultra-high-tech caper that'll defeat his high-tech defenses, all the while monitoring Reuben's delicate condition.

On the low tech side, knowing that the rating board will be attracted to this first look at the new state-of-the-art casino-hotel, a key part of the plan is to incapacitate their representative (David Paymer) in order to ensure the lowest possible rating for the first time in entrepreneur Banks' career, and misrepresent the real rater with their own guy, Saul Bloom (Carl Reiner) masquerading as effete and chipper Kensington Chubb from Kensington.

Nothing is entirely smooth in Ocean's operation, and when they face the reality that they don't have the astronomical budget to pull off all the requirements of their swindle, he's forced to go to the murderous gangster Terry Benedict (Andy Garcia) for a multi-million dollar loan at 100% interest, plus the diamonds. But, when you're desperate...

If this crew knows anything (and I'm referring to the actors here), it's how to deliver the cool, wry, understated laughs, and the movie gets its energy and genre glory from a succession of satirical and zany moments that owe something to "Big Deal on Madonna Street" for its inspiration. Don Cheadle, Bernie Mac (at his restrained best), Casey Affleck, Scott Caan, Eddie Izzard, Shaobo Qin, Vincent Cassel and Julian Sands all play their parts to a "T" for Thirteen.

Under Steven Soderbergh's ("The Good German") canny eye and taste for the glossy hipness of the franchise, the only way it goes astray is to play too long, draining some meat from the bones of so much high humor. The calculation that fascination with the doings of such a congregation of high roller talent should warrant more rather than less stretches the point a bit. Having said that (and it surely won't apply to everyone), and having suffered a few no-doze moments and an air of self-adulation flowing through the ventilation ducts, I'd comfortably suggest that lovers of effervescent comedy and sterling production values will not want to miss this roundup of Ocean's adaptive set of schemers.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  


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