Ever got the feeling three’s a crowd? Hollywood has thrown the Sequel aside like a used sock and - akin to that other bastion of homogeneity, Starbucks - has embraced the Franchise. Cinemas are stuffed with LA’s third sons - fatted calves, most of which deserve slaying. There’s the distended and bizarre Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End (2007), the boring and odd Spider-Man 3 (2007) and the been-there, laughed-at-that-before-and-it-wasn’t-that-funny-the-second-time-round Shrek the Third (2007). But amongst these crimes of conception is Steven Soderbergh’s offering, Ocean’s Thirteen. It’s kooky. It requires some large-scale suspension of disbelief. Yet it succeeds where the others fail – it manages to be what a summer blockbuster should be: entertaining.
As with a good magic trick, the plot is not really the point – the joy is all in the manner of its execution. We’re back in Las Vegas, and this time Danny Ocean’s boys are out for revenge. Old time member of the gang Reuben (Eliot Gould) has had a casino partnership pulled from under him by Willie Bank (Al Pacino). The resulting trauma gives him a heart attack and leaves him languishing in the kind of depression only old men, puppies and children can muster – something more akin to a heavy-duty sulk than the Black Dog. But seeing their pal doleful, listless and bed-ridden is enough for Danny (George Clooney) and Rusty (Brad Pitt) to take action. The plan is both a metaphoric and a very literal shake down of The Bank - Willie’s neatly, if egotistically, named gambling skyscraper – involving a giant drill and a fake earthquake. Yep, a giant drill and a fake earthquake - you can practically feel Dr No and Dr Evil seething with jealousy.
But in the end this film is not about plate tectonics. It’s about Cool and it’s about Funny – a combination that Michael Mann has never mastered the glory of. His Crockett (Colin Farrell) and Tubbs (Jamie Foxx) of last summer were trapped in a 134 minute long R&B music video (Miami Vice (2006)) that seriously mistook pretension for cool. But what Clooney and Pitt deliver is the real deal. Not since Paul Newman and Robert Redford starred in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969) have two dudes managed to be so…well…cool. And funny. They wear ridiculous disguises and they watch Oprah (in a brilliant scene) - yet you just want to be them. In Thirteen the boy’s girls – Tess (Julia Roberts) and Isabel (Catherine Zeta Jones) - are absent, but you really don’t miss them. Danny and Rusty are the perfect Hollywood buddies, and the perfect quasi-gay couple.
Using a sense of colour and editorial style that melds Yimou Zhang (Ying xiong [Hero] (2002), Shi mian mai fu [House of Flying Daggers] (2004), Man cheng jin dai huang jin jia [Curse of the Golden Flower] (2006)) with the original The Thomas Crown Affair (1968), Ocean’s Thirteen proves even Soderbergh’s commercial movies look beyond Californication. This is what makes it not only more entertaining than the other Thirds out there, but also fundamentally more interesting. Soderbergh’s far from a jobbing director of big-budget vacuums – he has an independent spirit. It’s this spirit that gives his $100 million movie its wit: from the running sub-plot involving factory-worker revolt in Mexico, to the comic redeployment of cash that is the film’s punch-line. Capable of self-mockery, Thirteen never loses its pace or panache, and it’s the best of Ocean’s outings.