All eleven of the original heisters are back, organizing around Danny Ocean (Clooney) to pull another job. One of their own, Reuben (Elliot Gould), has been double-crossed in a business deal with the ruthless Willie Bank (Al Pacino). The two were set to open a new casino on Reuben's property, but when Bank cuts the old crook out of the corporation, Reuben has a heart attack. Determined to claim vengeance for their ailing friend, the Ocean crew decide to hit Willie where he lives, sabotaging the opening night of the casino and taking the swindler for everything they can.
It's a big job, requiring some additional cohorts. Eddie Izzard returns from Twelve in his role as technological go-to guy Roman Nagel, and Andy Garcia keeps his toe in the water, reprising his role as Terry Benedict, the original casino owner the Eleven ripped-off. Gone this time, however, are the love interests. Neither Julia Roberts nor Catherine Zeta-Jones signed back on as the wives of Danny and Rusty (Brad Pitt). This is dealt with efficiently in brief snippets of conversation between the two men. Why make a big deal out of it? That would muss the hair of Ocean's Thirteen's casual cool.
Really, one of the most sincere pleasures of watching the Ocean's series is how easily Steven Soderbergh puts such complicated films together. Some may grumble at the forty minutes of set-up that begin this movie, but I was hypnotized watching the director lay all of his tools out on the table in order to explain to us how he was going to use them. Composed with a loopy editing style that shuffles the pieces of the plan like a deck of cards, dealing out random hands in such a way that gives Soderbergh the chance to still withhold his aces and pull a couple of bluffs, this is moviemaking exposition at its very best. When the Ocean's crew finally do start their job, its pure magic watching how all of these various elements fall into place.
On the same note, the way the many actors interact with one another is just as natural and freewheeling as it was in the much-maligned, criminally misunderstood Twelve. Sometimes you forget they are actually characters in a movie, they are so convincing as a bunch of guys just hanging around and shooting the bull. The inside jokes, the clipped way of speaking, and the unpretentious sense of humor is about as close as you can get to the original Rat Pack feeling without resurrecting the cast from the 1960 Frank Sinatra vehicle on which this whole shebang is based. Lay David Holmes' jazzy score underneath, and we're back in the Golden Age of Vegas all over again.
Though, as usual, Clooney and Pitt orchestrate the plan, both stars are comfortable enough to hang back and let other members of the cast get their just due. Thus, we get a great side story where the Malloy Brothers (Casey Affleck and Scott Caan) lead a worker's revolt in Mexico, Basher (Don Cheadle) masquerades as a motorcycle daredevil (one of many cheeky and ridiculous disguises the guys wear in Thirteen), and Linus (Matt Damon) is given an important component of the plan to handle all on his own. This latter part of the story involves romancing the sexy Ellen Barkin, stepping in to fill the vacancy left by the former female stars, playing Pacino's right-hand gal. All of these stories are shot through with humor, but they're also laced with tension, winking at the audience as they make us wonder just how it's all going to work.
Really, when it's all said and done, Ocean's Thirteen, just like the two films that preceded it, merely wants to be a cinematic good time while looking supremely cool in the process. With this as its mission, Thirteen never falls short. I was smiling ear to ear from the colorful graphics of the opening credits all the way through to the colorful graphics of the closing credits, and unless you hate having a good time yourself, a ticket to the third installment in the Ocean's series is a sure thing. Feel confident betting your leisure cash on it.