I feel kind of guilty. Several appealing smaller movies are playing in theaters—Once and The Valet and Paprika, to name a few. I’ve been meaning to check them out, but what do I go to see this week? Ocean’s Thirteen. I’m so embarrassed.
But Ocean’s Thirteen is exactly the sort of summer movie I adore. Unabashedly frivolous and unfailing cheerful, breezy and witty and jaunty, it just puts me a good mood. The fluffy confection of a plot doesn’t withstand much scrutiny, and each character isn’t so much a three-dimensional being as a single adjective in human form. But none of that matters. With Steven Soderbergh directing and George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Andy Garcia, and company charming their way around the screen like old-fashioned Golden Age movie stars, Ocean’s Thirteen represents a triumph of style over substance—and I mean that in the best way possible. Sometimes substance is a drag.
This Ocean’s caper involves rigging the games at a new casino owned by Willie Bank (Al Pacino), who cheated Reuben (Elliot Gould), one of the original Eleven, out of his share of the luxurious hotel. Poor Reuben is heartbroken—almost literally—so Danny (Clooney) and Rusty (Pitt) reunite their partners in crime to avenge their friend and cheer him back to health by sabotaging Bank’s casino in spectacular fashion.
Their scheme is impossibly convoluted and ridiculously unbelievable, but it supplies such delights as the jack-of-all-trades Malloy brothers (Casey Affleck and Scott Caan) fomenting a strike at a Mexican dice factory, the acrobatic Yen (Shaobo Qin) grudgingly admitting that some of his feats in a Hong Kong action flick were performed by a stuntman, and the perpetually insecure Linus (Matt Damon) struggling to sip champagne while in disguise with a Cyrano-like false nose.
Pacino’s Bank is something of a disappointment. He doesn’t seem smart enough to play in league with Danny Ocean’s crew, and Pacino’s performance is uncharacteristically muted and uncompelling. Much more fun is Danny’s old nemesis Terry Benedict (Garcia), recruited in Thirteen to help finance the Bank caper. Oozing suave menace and glinting with wry humor, Garcia steals every scene he’s in.
Ultimately the movie amounts to nothing, of course, but such well-polished, fun-filled nothing! I love the goofy, baroque names given to different con games. I love the over-the-top disguises, from Rusty’s energetic hippie scientist to Saul’s chirpily effete Brit to Danny’s swarthy, mustachioed get-up in a single throwaway scene. I love Soderbergh’s sleek, perfectly paced direction, especially the care he lavishes on reaction shots.
Most of all, though, I love the fact that everyone involved in this trifle can—and does—create much meatier fare, as well. I myself am prone to taking everything a shade too seriously, so I find it oddly liberating to watch serious, talented people indulge themselves in something completely silly with the same care and attention to detail they would devote to something more sober.
That said, I’m still a little annoyed with myself. I haven’t been down to Film Forum in months! No more big-budget Hollywood junk for me for a while. (Maria, I know I told you I’d go see Knocked Up, but as you as Kristin well know, I really don’t need more fodder for my Alien nightmares, so I think I’m going to pass for now.) Trifles are fun, but now I need something good and artsy-fartsy to level off my blood sugar.