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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


It’s been a summer of threes: Spider-Man 3, Pirates of the Caribbean 3, Shrek 3. Like ‘em, love ‘em, or hate ‘em, most people agree that none of them are the best entries in the series. Now we’ve got another Part Three: Ocean’s Thirteen. It’s an example of the rare sequel that’s every bit as good as the original. Wisely, no one tinkered with the formula. They simply stayed true to it. The old maxim says, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” The Ocean’s series wasn’t broke, and so everyone just kept their hands off.

The story this time begins with crew member Reuben (Elliot Gould) getting screwed out of the deed to a valuable piece of land. The screw-er is Willie Bank (Al Pacino), an egomaniacal casino owner who cheats Reuben out of the land, causing him to have a heart attack in the process. Danny Ocean (George Clooney) and Rusty Ryan (Brad Pitt) don’t intend to sit by and let their incapacitated friend/mentor lose his money. Ocean nicely offers Bank the chance to make good; when he refuses, Ocean then reunites his team to take the guy down. This includes Linus (Matt Damon), Basher (Don Cheadle), and Frank (Bernie Mac).

They go straight for the ego. Bank has just opened his luxury hotel/casino on the land, and they aim to make his big opening a disaster. Their plan involves fixing all the slot machines and gambling tables so that “lucky” winners (themselves included) score big paydays left and right. They also ensure that the hotel gets a lousy star-rating in a travel guide by messing with the rater (David Paymer). Such a scheme costs money, and when it runs out, Ocean turns to the least likely suspect for help: his old nemesis Terry Benedict (Andy Garcia), who has his own score to settle with Bank. Ellen Barken also stars as Abigail Sponder, Bank’s right-hand woman who needs to be distracted in order for the plan to work. That’s where Linus comes in.

After two other movies in the series, Ocean’s Thirteen doesn’t exactly feel fresh, but what’s cool is that it doesn’t feel stale either. This is the rare movie series where the third entry is just as much fun as the original. It hasn’t been padded or bloated like some sequels, nor has it run out of steam. If this had been the first one, there still would have been sequels. Part of the reason is probably due to the fact that it’s an ego-free affair. The stars are doing this for fun, and they don’t care about upstaging each other or competing with one another to see who can get the juiciest subplot. Instead, everyone works collaboratively on the main plot. The screenplay (by Rounders team Brian Koppelman and David Levien) smartly stays true to the heist formula; the plot hasn’t been weighted down with personal dramas or unnecessary character development. It’s all about the execution of the plan, and nothing else. There is something refreshing about how complicated that plan is, too. The Ocean’s movies assume that the audience is smart enough to keep up. That refusal to dumb things down is one of the most pleasurable things about the picture.

Perhaps my favorite thing about any of these movies is the style that director Steven Soderbergh brings to them. In the original, the filmmaker wanted to show that he could bring an arty, independent sensibility to a big-budget, star-studded mainstream Hollywood movie. He pulled it off. Now that he’s proven what he can do, Soderbergh is trying to go to the next level. Ocean’s Thirteen uses new visual stylistics, including a great sequence where he puts neon totals above the heads of gamblers, showing us how much money they’ve won. The visual style, combined with the series’ trademark use of hip music and the undeniable chemistry of the stars, creates an atmosphere where you can get completely sucked up in the viewing experience.

Some people were disappointed with Ocean’s Twelve, which veered off on some unusual tangents, including one where the Julia Roberts character met the real Julia Roberts. I liked Twelve, but I have to admit that Thirteen is much more in the spirit of the original. Roberts doesn’t appear (nor does Twelve love interest Catherine Zeta-Jones), which may bum a few people out. Everyone else is as good as ever, though, and Pacino makes a wonderfully egotistical villain.

I’ve had a lot of fun with all three of the movies. Ocean’s Thirteen may be the third in the series, but it’s every bit as satisfying as the two that proceeded it.

( 1/2 out of four)

DVD Features:

The first – and best – bonus feature on the Ocean’s Thirteen DVD is called “Vegas: An Opulent Illusion.” This 20-minute documentary looks at how the architecture of Vegas has changed over the years, as casinos attempt to outdo one another in spectacle and majesty. In addition to appreciating the changing face of the city and the dazzlingly flashy buildings, there is also some amazing footage of old casinos being demolished. The doc additionally discusses some of the psychological tricks casinos use to keep people gambling. One architect reveals that he designs casinos with lots of curves to make sure people feel like there is constantly something new to explore within. (It wouldn’t work, he says, if people walked in the door, looked left and right, and felt like they had seen it all.) Use of lighting and ceiling height is also discussed as experts talk about the cumulative effect they are going for: making people feel as comfortable and entertained as possible. After all, the longer they stay, the more money they’ll spend. Although I’m not a gambler, I love the feel inside a casino, and this documentary provided a fascinating peek behind the curtain.

The “Vegas” feature also shows us what kind of special benefits high rollers can get. Known as “whales,” these are the folks who think nothing of dropping $250,000 or more at a table. People with that kind of cash are often recruited to come to Vegas, and they are treated to suites so lush that even Donald Trump would salivate with delight. There are sights here that will blow your mind.

The next feature - “Jerry Weintraub Walk and Talk” - is just what it sounds like. The movie’s producer takes us onto the film’s massive casino set, which has been stocked so authentically that it could be fully operational. Although this feature is only about three minutes long, it provides an impressive dissection of the detail that went into the set.

Finally, there are a few minutes of deleted scenes. Nothing crucial was left on the cutting room floor, but there are certainly some amusing little moments to be found in these four minutes.

Ocean’s Thirteen comes on a single disk containing both the widescreen and fullscreen formats. The HD-DVD and Blu-Ray formats contain all the above-mentioned special features as well as a documentary called “Masters of the Heist,” which looks at the most sophisticated real-life heists, a la the Ocean’s films.

Ocean's Thirteen is rated R for brief sensuality. The running time is 2 hours and 2 minutes.

To learn more about this film, check out Ocean's Thirteen

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