Thursday, June 14, 2007


The Deep End Of Danny Ocean

By Odienator
I succumbed to the charms of Ocean's 13 right at the moment a cell phone went off in the theater. Thankfully, the phone in question was on the screen, and it played a ringtone version of The Human League's "Don't You Want Me, Baby?" I laughed, not only because I could appreciate a good ringtone interpretation (my phone plays a ringtone of Curtis Mayfield's "Freddy's Dead"), but because it occurred in the middle of a serious-looking heist scene. The phone's owner answered the phone and then walked off the job, as if to say "there are things more important in this film than the caper."

Ocean's 13 firmly establishes that its caper is the MacGuffin. Not once does the film try to convince you that Danny Ocean's plan for revenge against a dishonest casino boss has one iota of credibility. It's a movie plot in a movie-movie, much like the plot of North By Northwest. Like Hitchcock's lightest feature, the fun of Ocean's 13 is trying to figure out how the film will reconcile the situations it creates for its characters. They have to be as preposterous as the setups, so one must either roll with the giddiness or reject it.

Ocean's 12's saving grace, after what seemed like an eternity of self-satisfied smugness, was a hilarious meta joke involving Julia Roberts' character impersonating Julia Roberts. It was a completely gonzo move that made no sense whatsoever, but I enjoyed the absurdity enough to marginally recommend the film. Roberts is nowhere to be found in Ocean's 13, and the fact she's not missed says a lot about the series being strictly for the boys. She is mentioned in passing and gotten out of the way in the first 15 minutes.

The plot, or should I say the excuse to create casino mayhem, finds Danny Ocean (George Clooney) and his gang seeking revenge after their mentor Ruben (Elliott Gould) is cheated out of land and money by corrupt casino boss Willy Bank (Al Pacino, who really should do more comedy). So upset by this double cross, Gould falls ill with a Douglas Sirk-style broken heart, leading the gang to concoct a way to ruin the opening of Bank's latest casino on the Strip. The plan involves Don Cheadle's pseudo-Cockney engineer creating an earthquake with a drill used to create the Chunnel in order to crash a super computer, while Scott Caan goes to Mexico to help create loaded dice and cause a riot, and Carl Reiner impersonates a hotel reviewer and … oh, never mind. It all works out in the end.

Some of the side plots are especially amusing. Willy Bank's right hand man is a woman, Abigail Sponder (Ellen Barkin). She ends up in a compromising situation with Matt Damon's weird Linus character, who for reasons too complicated to explain, is disguised as Steven Soderbergh's handsomer twin brother. Barkin is still hot in the scary, butch kind of way she brought to her last pairing with Pacino, the pillow-humping murder thriller Sea of Love, so the film's way of getting her hot for nerdy Damon is plausible and hilarious. Oprah also makes an amusing cameo, causing Clooney to have a shameless male bonding moment with his fellow People Magazine Sexiest Man Alive winner Brad Pitt. And David Paymer, as the hotel reviewer Reiner is impersonating, has his own mini-movie of comedy as pain and suffering. It should be noted that Reiner's English accent is far better than Cheadle's.

With Pacino as the villain, I expected him to rant, scream and spit as only Al can. Shockingly, Pacino is subdued, delivering his lines with a comedic timing underscored with menace. "I don't want the labor pains, I just want the baby!" he says at one point, adding another line for Pacino impersonators to repeat forever. My only beef is that he's not onscreen as long as I would have liked him to be. Perhaps Soderbergh cut out all his great screaming moments, reducing his screen time 75%.

Holding this all together is George Clooney. It may be blasphemy to say it, but Clooney has a hint of Cary Grant about him in some movies. He's not Cary, to be sure, but I could see Grant as the smooth criminal of Out of Sight, the screwball silly Pomade addict in O Brother, Where Art Thou, or Danny Ocean, whose mere presence and chemistry with his colleagues Grant could do in his sleep. You're willing to follow Clooney's Danny Ocean into the most absurd plot twist, and for a film with Super Dave Osborne as an FBI agent, you can expect absurdity.

The film's best scene is also its most quiet. Pitt and Clooney stand in front of the Bellagio Hotel and reminisce about the old Las Vegas and their first encounters with Gould. For a moment, the movie felt justified in how far it was willing to stretch our suspension of disbelief so that justice could be served. If I hadn't already been suckered in, I would have bought the entire thing at that moment.

This summer, we've had three part threes. With its overdose of villains, the Spider-Man series turned into a Joel Schumacher Batman movie. Shrek the Third was Far Far Away from its first installment, and the less said about Pirates 3, the better. Ocean's 13 is the best of the lot, a summer movie that's like a theme park ride. Fun while you're on it, forgettable when you get home, but you're still glad you went.

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I think this is the best review I've read of this fun little (little?) movie. The movie is not slight in stature or skill but it is a breeze I enjoyed feeling waft past me for two hours. I like this:

"It may be blasphemy to say it, but Clooney has a hint of Cary Grant about him in some movies. He's not Cary, to be sure, but I could see Grant as the smooth criminal of Out of Sight, the screwball silly Pomade addict in O Brother, Where Art Thou, or Danny Ocean, whose mere presence and chemistry with his colleagues Grant could do in his sleep."

I've been saying this for a while, but never on my blog or anything so thanks for putting it out there. I think it's becoming pretty clear he's the heir apparent, even if GC's only, say, half a CG -- or even a quarter. Hmn. Okay: well, nobody is CG but GC sure is charming.
Thanks for the compliment on the review, RWK.

I hesitated on including that passage in the review, but over time I've concluded that if Tom Hanks were supposed to be my generation's Jimmy Stewart, than George Clooney was my generation's Cary Grant. Clooney's charm is effortless, and he's willing to make a jackass out of himself onscreen. He's damn good looking but, like Grant, it almost feels like an afterthought; there's no conceit in his appearance because you know, deep down, he has no shame.

I have been saying (in my best Al) "I don't want the labor pains, I JUST WANT THE BABY!!!" all the time now. It goes in my Pacino repertoire with "I'm just gettin' warmed up!","Say Hello to my leetle friend!", and "C'mon!! GIMME WHATCHA GOT!!!"

By the way, if you feel a disturbance in the Force next week, it is your friendly neighborhood Odienator. I'll be in San Francisco for my company's big corporate meeting.
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