In this third installment however the boys aren’t in the game for the business. No this time it’s personal. When one of their own the irascible Reuben (Elliott Gould) suffers a heart attack after being double-crossed by malevolent hotel mogul Willie Bank (Al Pacino) Danny (George Clooney) Rusty (Brad Pitt) Linus (Matt Damon) and the rest of the gang decide to hit Bank where it hurts. They orchestrate it so not only will they ruin the hotelier financially by turning the tables on the precept that the house always wins but also hurt Bank’s pride by giving his big new Las Vegas hotel a bad rating. The Ocean crew even manages to rope in their old nemesis Terry Benedict (Andy Garcia) on the scam since Benedict can’t stand Bank or the monstrosity he has built on the Strip. The plan is a bit convoluted and seemingly damn near impossible but the moral of the story is this: Mess with an Ocean you get pummeled by the waves. What has always made the Ocean's installments work is the freewheeling spirit and good-ol'-boy camaraderie from its eye-candy cast. Even though they are a bit more somber this time around--you know worried about Reuben and all--the actors are still clearly enjoying themselves. Clooney and Pitt continue to be the suave ringleaders finishing each other’s sentences and commiserating over the problems they are having with their respective spouses/girlfriends--which in turn explains why Tess (Julia Roberts) and Isabel (Catherine Zeta-Jones) aren’t in the movie. Basically this “isn’t their fight ” and they aren’t needed. Actually it’s Damon’s Linus who gets a love interest--sort of. The usually green Linus gets a chance to prove his mettle by donning a disguise (a big fake nose to be exact) and wooing Bank’s second-in-command the tough-as-nails Abigail Sponder as part of the plan. She’s played winningly by Ellen Barkin who fits right into this gentleman’s club. All the others are also in top form proving they could keep making these movies and we’d never get tired of watching them play. At this point in the Ocean's franchise director Steven Soderbergh’s work is pretty much done for him which is a good or bad thing depending on your perspective. The good part (and I’ve said this before) is Soderbergh definitely has one of the keenest eyes in the business and with Ocean's Thirteen he makes you feel like you’re coming home after spending the last movie floundering abroad. The guys are more at ease and the surroundings are comfortably familiar while the massive complicated suspend-your-disbelief undertaking crackles and zings as it's being put into motion. Soderbergh also uses the split-screen technique to great effect. The bad thing is we’ve seen it all before. Ocean's Thirteen doesn’t really offer anything particularly new as far as what we’ve come to expect and there are a few times Soderbergh seems to be phoning it in. But honestly is there anything wrong with that? Not really. Not with this great cast that is aging and gelling like fine wine bringing Sin City to its knees.
A billionaire TV producer (Robert Mammone) has a great idea for a reality show that he wants to put on the Internet and his goal is to beat the 40 million Super Bowl audience. He has compiled a crack team of young hip and immoral tech geeks directed by Goldman (Rick Hoffman) and puts cameras throughout a remote island where former prisoners are going to kill each other while audiences watch after shelling out the pay-per-view fee. The location is done on a remote secret island and the death row prisoners are bought from prisons around the world with the promise that the survivor gets to walk free. Among the contestants are a rogue Aussie named McStarley (Vinnie Jones) a martial arts expert (Masa Yamaguchi) a husband-and-wife team (Manu Bennett and Dasi Ruz) a monstrous killer who doesn't do much more than grunt (Nathan Jones) and others known only as The Italian The German and other monikers quickly forgotten. Enter the sole American Jack Conrad (Steve Austin) who's in a South American prison for some obscure reason and is recognized on TV by his wife (Madeleine West) who tries to save him. However it looks like Conrad is pretty good at helping himself. Don't expect the acting to be much more evolved than what could be seen among the World Wrestling Entertainment superstars especially since many of them were plucked from the ring to star in this morality tale. But Austin (who had in a strong cameo in Adam Sandler's Longest Yard) proves he has a sense of humor as well as strength. Vinnie Jones is ridiculously over-the-top as the Aussie who's the hand-picked winner of this game shown setting up alliances Survivor style only to turn on them later. The supporting cast are refreshingly entertaining but one-note caricatures both in the contest and running the contest. It's obvious that they aren't going to be around long but the actors do milk their tiny roles for every bit of attention they can get. Rick Hoffman as the brilliant camera mastermind of the project is both whiny sniveling and mean-spirited so when he joins some of the rest of the crew and suddenly develops a backbone and a conscience he ends up stealing the movie with his acerbic humor. But it's the understated American hero Conrad who holds a mirror up to the people who like to watch this stuff. Director Scott Wiper who co-wrote this story has also acted in similar movies like this (A Better Way to Die). It’s obvious he knows what he’s doing with The Condemned and develops a sense of voyeuristic angst like those of us who can't keep our eyes off a train wreck. Like the darkly subversive Belgian film Man Bites Dog the camera crew remains safely distant and remote until the reality directly involves them. Then the crew wonders "What the hell are we doing?" while the audience might be thinking "What the hell are we watching?" Much like Series 7: The Contenders Rollerball and other movies which show a dark and bloody near future this kind of reality doesn't seem too far away and maybe proves that movies which provide this type of gladiator spectacle target a certain segment of the human population who need to blow off steam.