Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Unlucky Thirteen

I think I heard an interview years ago where George Clooney said that he wanted to remake Ocean's 11 because it was a movie with a great idea, but ended up not being so good. His theory was that you shouldn't bother remaking a great movie, because it's already great. I thought that was pretty smart, and an accurate assessment of the original movie.

Don't get me wrong. I liked the Rat Pack Ocean's 11, but not because it was a particularly good flick. It was breezy and fun and showed the guys hanging around Vegas and there was a heist tossed in and a clever ending. But overall it came off exactly like what it was: An excuse for a bunch of friends to live the high life on the studio's dime while screwing around in Vegas and tossing in just enough fluffy entertainment to get the viewing public to throw their money away going to see the onscreen antics.

When Clooney & Co. remade the first one, it retained the breezy charm of the first one, and while it had plot holes you could drive an Escalade through, it all moved quickly and entertainingly and held together as a great movie. The director, Steven Soderbergh, isn't a guy to be trifled with. He'd previously directed Clooney is the highly underrated Out of Sight, which was based on an Elmore Leonard novel. So he definitely had a feel for enticing heists and colorful criminals. He'd just come off a best director win for the highly overrated Traffic, and the Eleven project allowed him to brighten and lighten up, literally.

One of Soderbergh's trademarks that I really love is how he can make a movie look so damn good. His Ocean's Eleven really did manage to capture the Bellagio on film with the dreamy, creamy colors and diffuse golden lighting everywhere. He was working with an amazingly good-looking cast, even by Hollywood standards, and the flick really did bring back echoes of old-Hollywood glamour.

Overall, the original entry in this franchise captured the charm and swagger necessary to pull off a successful heist flick, and did it with plenty of style to spare.

The second movie in the Ocean's franchise wasn't as well received as the first, but I still liked it. Certainly, the plot was ludicrous. Also, I'm not a big Brad Pitt fan. Sometimes I watch him in movies (Fight Club, Twelve Monkeys) and I'm not appalled by him. But his looks do nothing for me, and I have to laugh because he's basically filling the Dean Martin role in this crew. Dino, to a lot of people, symbolized odious Hollywood excess and a way of sliding by based on connections with little talent to back it up. Lots of people thought he was smarmy. But I like Dino and don't even FF through him singing "Ain't That a Kick in the Head" -- which he performs twice in the original Ocean's movie. Brad Pitt, on the other hand? Well, he is a kick in the fucking head. I do find him to be an example of odious Hollywood excess and smarmy as hell.

He slid by in the first one, eating in every scene and generally not annoying me. But in Twelve he had a love interest and beefier part. But, for me, that was counterweighted with Matt Damon's presence as the earnest and innocent youngster trying to get a better handle on the business. And though this may be out-of-fashion to admit, I like Julia Roberts. She didn't come off particularly well in the first movie with all the walking she did. Though she's a lovely woman, she walked like a cow and undermined her glam-factor. In the second installment she didn't have to play the gorgeous card. Instead, in a move that annoyed most people but made me laugh, she mocked herself. And instead of walking around like a cow, she went over the top with a fabulously de-glammed awkward, pregnant jog.

Clooney, in both pictures, was the anchor, and he looked great and showcased his smirky, fatuous charm that he somehow pulls off. But Andy Garcia's role was slightly diminished for Twelve, which didn't work for me for two reasons. First, for me, Garcia, not Clooney, is Teh Hot. I was in Vegas when they were shooting Ocean's Eleven and I was all about catching a glimpse of Garcia. I was lucky enough to watch them film a re-shoot scene of Garcia and Julia Roberts in the casino. It made my year. Everyone else in the city was chasing down George, but I was more than happy to watch Andy.

Second, and more important, have you ever seen anyone have more fun onscreen than Andy Garcia in Ocean's Eleven? For real. Sometime, watch that flick and take note of Andy. He's not chewing the scenery and he stops short of twirling a mustache, but his walk and talk and manner as the arrogant foil to Clooney's thief is truly delightful.

In Twelve, he has a nice turn at the start, rousing everyone together again, but then the clutter starts and he gets pushed aside when the main opposition to Clooney's crew is Vincent Cassel as a French master-thief. Cassel, he was a drag, man.

But, overall, for me the movie worked because although Soderbergh lost that gilded Vegas look, he was able to reminisce the sleepy blues he did so well in Solaris while filming around gorgeous Lake Como, and he kept the pace swinging like a Bobby Darin tune.

So now here comes the third installment, Ocean's Thirteen. Soderbergh's colors are again brilliant, and we're back to the Vegas palate. From jazzy reds to nearly electric gold, the look of the flick sizzles. There's also one well-placed exterior shot outside at the Bellagio fountains which must've been shot shortly after dawn, where he captures the strange, misty, dreamy look of the place that's so unbelievable plunked down there in the middle of the strip.

But you know you're in a little trouble when the best part of a movie is the colors. Dig?

The interiors this time aren't shot in Bellagio, or at a Vegas casino at all. They're a Hollywood soundstage version of Vegas, and it's just not quite right. I don't blame them for not going back to Bellagio, because it would've been a logistics nightmare, and, frankly, Bellagio is a property in decline. Part of the beauty of watching Ocean's Eleven is that although it's recent, even that version of Vegas is already gone. Once the crown jewel of the strip, Bellagio is already living off its reputation as it cheapens and changes and gets cluttered and has relinquished its title as the IT resort in Vegas.

And that gives it something in common with this latest Ocean's installment -- because it's also living off its reputation. The latest movie shows the strain that sequels tend to do, and it's become both more extravagant and cheapened by the clutter.

It's hard for me to find an exact fault with it, as the plot is tighter than Twelve, and the stars are just as charming. The additions to the cast come off well. Al Pacino is a ha-ha funny shade of orange, and Ellen Barkin is sexy and silly as ever. Andy still has a diminished role, but he got me to laugh along with him in one scene where he was enjoying getting his evil on. Clooney still looks fabulous, and Damon is still cute. Pitt is still a tool, whatever. Soderbergh again keeps a tight pacing and breezy tone.

But yet. I don't know. Kind of like how it's supposed to be set in Vegas, but you can just tell that it's not. Believe me, it's hard to get more superficial than Las Vegas, but a Hollywood studio can most certainly pull off that magic, and they do in this movie. I know that the casino is supposed to be beastly and atrocious in its excess, but they still managed to somehow get it not quite right.

It's not a spoiler to tell you that there's a running line in Thirteen about shaking Sinatra's hand. It's a nice little tip of the hat to bygone days of Vegas, and to the guy who created the original material for these films. But it only serves to show how this whole thing has come full circle. Because although what's onscreen this time is fairly enjoyable, it no longer plays like a great movie. It now comes off like a bunch of pals who wanted to jerk-off the studio for a ton of money while they screwed around onset and tossed in enough fluffy entertainment to get the viewing public to throw their money away to see the onscreen antics. It's still a great idea, but this just isn't such a great movie. It's the most clever part of the heist, really.

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