Ocean's Thirteen

dir: Steven Soderbergh
[img_assist|nid=744|title=Oh fuck do we suck in this|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=420|height=321]
Lord Jesus, Satan, Buddha, Easter Bunny: save me from myself. If a punter ventures forth to the cinema or a rental place and buys a ticket or hires something they know nothing about, I guess they’ve got the right to be pissed off when it turns out to be woeful and blowful.

If you watch something knowing full well how much of a craptacular experience it’s going to be, then how much of a right do you have to complain?

Bugger-all, but rights don’t always dictate actions.

Ocean’s 13 or Thirteen is the unlucky third entry in this glib, shallow franchise centred around the fact that Brad Pitt and George Clooney occasionally want to get paid a shitload of money so that they can remain high in the public’s celebrity consciousness without having to actually act in a film. They’re being paid to play themselves, which I’m sure is wonderful for the women who routinely swoon whenever they watch them being ‘interviewed’ on Oprah, but it is of little interest to me.

Several times during this flick our two main protagonists are almost interrupted by the camera in the middle of an anecdote that sounds something like:

“So then I said if it’s going to be that kind of –“
- “Of course, what else could you –“
“Well she said “mashed potatoes.”
- “Mashed, of course.”
“Which is why –“
- “That’s what they say.”

I’m not sure if Don DeLillo was hired to work on this script, but he should at least get some royalties. This kind of shorthand dialogue is irritating to me, because it says nothing apart from how fucking lazy the whole production is, which is indicative of the level of care put into the entire caper. They’re trading on nothing more than the easy-going familiarity we assume exists betwixt the two men, as if I need to watch a flick to see if my feelings that Brad and George love each other will be validated.

Still, I am drawn to this kind of material for a reason. I loves the caper flick, I does. I especially love the heist movie, dealing as it does with a group of people trying to pull off an incredibly elaborate theft or scam (or both), carrying with it the possibility of failure and the stink of desperation when the incredibly complicated scam goes pear-shaped.

Personally, I’m not sure why something going pear shaped is a bad thing, since pears have a lovely shape, and if it’s a reference to women going pear-shaped as they mature, well, there’s nothing wrong with a woman with a nice, healthy arse.

Before I start singing Sir Mixalot’s classic paean to big butts, let’s get back to the tragedy at hand. Done right, the heist pic is a thing of beauty. We’re generally privy to the details going in of how the crime is meant to be committed, so that when something random occurs or if someone commits a burn or a cross on their compatriots, we know how everything is falling apart and why.

When we get to the Ocean’s flicks, we’re not really talking about the same thing. These flicks aren’t about the scam, because we know the scam’s going to work no matter what. And it’s not because the plot is so intricately worked out, it’s because it’s George and Brad and Matt Damon and everyone else having a Coke and a smug smile and a casual saunter across the mezzanine whilst either buttoning or unbuttoning the middle button of their designer suit jackets.

“MATT DAMON!” I just wanted to repeat one of my favourite moments from Team America: World Police: Matt Damon randomly screaming out “MATT DAMON!” for no discernable reason.

They trade on the perceived style and charm on loan from the Rat Pack era of suave alcoholism and treating scantily clad women like the objects they so dearly want to be treated as. Most of all, they rely on the fact that people don’t care what happens or to whom, they just want to see these guys act like the cool, suave shmucks that they are.

Frankly, not being a teenage girl or a middle-aged woman who gets moist in the gusset at the very mention of Clooney’s name, I need a bit more out of a flick.

The “guys” are called together again not because every other flick Soderbergh makes loses money, and that these Ocean’s flicks allow him to fund any number of other smaller flicks, but by the hospitalisation of some old guy played by Eliot Gould. He is portrayed as some kind of old school Vegas legend who probably helped cover up Sinatra’s murder of prostitutes and cocktail waitresses, or who tracked down unwilling liver donors for Dean Martin.

But for any audience he’s just this guy with the biggest and thickest glasses since Henry Kissinger strode manfully around as a member of the Washington D.C. swingers set. After running afoul of one of the most boring characters chronic overactor Al Pacino has ever played, Reuben (Gould) lies insensate in a bed as the various ‘gang’ from the two previous movies hover protectively over him.

They want revenge on evil, tired Willie Banks, and thus endeavour to rig the opening night of his new casino so that he loses a shitload of money and control of the casino. How they do this is incredibly and needlessly complicated. Also, almost every aspect of the ‘scam’ depends on a truly dull use of magical technology, blending contemporary concepts and tech hardware that exists with fantastical stuff that exists nowhere outside of the coke-addled brains of the writers in love with their own cleverness.

Thing is, it’s not that clever. If I write a script so that our heroes have their bacon saved at the last moment because of the use of something that doesn’t exist even in Star Trek, then why would I expect that any audience member will be that thrilled by it? When you use more technology and gadgets than should be used even in a James Bond flick, where are the smarts, skills and resourcefulness of the characters to be applauded?

They’re nowhere, so all you get is a smug Clooney explaining to his enemy how he expected everything, planned for every eventuality, fooled them way before they thought the game even started, and then probably fucked their mother as well for good measure.

By the time the second flick in this franchise came around, the makers decided actually having a clever script wasn’t as desirable or necessary as having a scam that has the appearance of cleverness whilst being anything but. What this has meant for the second and third flicks is that the twist pulled on the characters at crucial bits of the plot is reliant more on its contempt for the audience when it just retroactively changes what’s gone on, rather than careful plotting and anything remotely approaching believability coming into play.

As a testament to their further laziness, in Twelve there was a scene whereby Damon’s character Linus is bailed out of a troublesome situation by his mother, who is also a con artist. Using the collective brain power of a thousand monkey scriptwriters, and that supercomputer what beat Gary Kasparov in chess, in this third film they decide to create exactly the same situation, except Linus’s father ‘surprisingly’ comes to the rescue.

Give me a fucking break.

Anticipating one’s opponent’s actions is one thing, and crucial in these plots: Arbitrarily making it so that even the most outlandish cross was predicted months ago and solved by having changed some element in the past makes it look like, as a reward for Clooney’s good looks, charm and his work with orphans, they’ve also given him a time machine in order to correct his mistakes. What’s the matter, can’t get back in time to 1997 to stop Batman and Robin from ever being made?

I found it dull. Flicks like this shouldn’t be dull; they should be filled with agonising tension and nail-biting split second decisions that alter the course of lives and of incredibly intricate schemes that could fall apart at a moment’s notice. With nothing believable happening, and nothing interesting from a character/dramatic point of view, and with nothing at stake for anyone involved, all you’re left with is coasting on the charm of your leads and the possibilities of humour.

I don’t remember laughing, except maybe when two of the eleven or thirteen members of the crew (I can’t keep track) take part in a labour dispute in Mexico at the factory where the dice being made for the casino come from. Virgil and Turk (Casey Affleck and Scott Caan) make the least believable Mexicans ever, but at least the scenario is vaguely amusing.

Which is more than I can say for every other aspect of the flick. The majority of the rest left me nonplussed. Some bits, like Pitt and Clooney essentially getting on their knees and giving Oprah the most slavering cunnilingus she’s ever enjoyed in her entire life are jaw-dropping for all the wrong reasons. The invocation of Frank Sinatra’s hallowed name is persistently annoying as well. Sinatra may have become the patron saint of Las Vegas, but Clooney referring to him like he’s Jesus is insulting to, I dunno, Satanists everywhere.

In the end, the one thing I can think of that makes this flick marginally less repugnant than Ocean’s Twelve is that there is no scene in Thirteen where Julia Roberts plays a character who looks so much like Julia Roberts that the gang enlist her to pretend to be Julia Roberts in order to aid the carrying-out of a scam that doesn’t need to be carried out anyway because the joke’s on us.

These movies are some of the greatest circle jerks Hollywood has ever produced, but they’re not even remotely passable heist flicks, as far as I’m concerned. Pray they don’t inflict another one upon us any time soon.

2 times the brazen and obvious theft of two hundred and fifty million dollars worth of diamonds would at least raise the attention of the relevant insurance company, who surely wouldn’t avoid pursuing the guilty because someone once shook Sinatra’s goddamn Mafia-infected hand out of 10

“You're like the Morecombe and Wise of the thievery world, but even they went off the boil after a while.” – it’s funny that they get Eddie Izzard to say this in the flick known as Ocean’s Thirteen. Roll on Ocean’s Fourteen I say, where Clooney’s eyes are swallowed up by his cheeky crow’s feet, and Al Pacino sits on a porch yelling at neighbourhood kids to stay off his lawn.