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Sunday, June 10, 2007

Ocean's 13

Does it seem like movies are becoming more and more like tabloid magazines that are supposed to cover the movies? I’m having a hard time lately keeping track of what’s “real” and what’s “reel.” I mean, geez, Jennifer Aniston hooks up with goofball Vince Vaughn and before you know it they’re a couple off screen and on, and then they suffer The Break-Up just as their movie The Break-Up opens. With Lindsay Lohan, it is harder to figure out which came first. Was her drunken, obnoxious out-of-control behavior the result of playing a drunken, obnoxious out-of-control teen in Georgia Rule or is this simply a case of art imitating life? And even though Lassie tried to make a comeback last year in her own self-titled adventure, no amount of p.r. or appealing to the younger set is going to cover up the truth that Lassie is a washed-up old bitch and unless she is going to cut off all her hair or snort coke off a toilet seat in a night club bathroom there isn’t going to be a snowball’s chance in you-know-where that anybody under the age of 50 is going to care about seeing her picture now or ever.

Back in the “day” when Hollywood was truly glamorous and being a star meant something besides just fame and big bucks, there was also the issue of being a “role model.” Studios had morals
clauses in their contracts with stars that would guarantee to absolutely ruin an actor or actress’ career if there was even the odor of scandal nearby, so the publicity departments of the major studios worked with agents and managers at full steam to ensure that the public never really knew what was going on in the “real” Hollywood. When Rock Hudson reported to the set and make-up required a quick intervention to pick a few blonde short-n-curlies from between his teeth it was just as well that the make-up girl thought they belonged to Doris Day and didn’t realize they were really Tab Hunter’s. After all, she read Photoplay and Movieland and knew true love when she heard about it, especially when it came from reliable sources like Hedda Hopper or Rona Barrett. Nowadays, not only would this not be a secret, it’s a good bet that the happy couple would be giving exclusive photo layouts and in-depth stories to the tabloids, begging their agents to get them covers on The Star, The National Enquirer, and The Globe. There’d probably even be an inevitable tv movie (hey, we’re still not ready to pay actual money to see movie stars’ filthy little lives on the big screen. Well, not unless they are dead, and then only if they died of an overdose, some tragic accident, or, best of all, as a murder victim.) Otherwise, look to Lifetime ("television for Women and gay men") to crank out the bio-pics with the stylized dirt on today’s faves. Princess Diana has died a thousand deaths on Lifetime and her eldest son, William, has gone through puberty nearly that many in his own movie. Karen Carpenter has starved and died, then risen again and again to purge once more. It’s practically a confessional of bad behavior and tragedy, so is it any wonder then that the practice would eventually spread to “A” List? Even they watch television occasionally, and with their egos, it was only a matter of time before the lot of them got together at George Clooney’s estate on Lake Cuomo in Italy and said collectively “Hey, let’s put on a show!”

And so they did. In the tradition of Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney in all of their Andy Hardy movies of the 1930s, Clooney (Syriana) and his best friends forever Matt Damon (The Good Shepherd), Brad Pitt (Babel), Don Cheadle (Reign Over Me), Andy Garcia (The Air I Breathe), Elliott Gould (Open Window), Carl Reiner (Good Boy!), and a herd of lesser names pulled off reshaping a Sinatra/Rat Pack con artist caper from the 1950s called Ocean’s 11 by updating it, expanding on it, and basically turning it into a robbery picture with everybody playing themselves but not going by their real names. That gave the gang the opportunity to get paid millions of dollars to hang out together for months on end, have truckloads of fun between takes and after work, and end up making the studio and the fans ecstatic because they made a movie that was more star-packed than a book by Carl Sagan.

So where do they go from there? Back to the same well again, only this time bringing on Julia Roberts to play George’s ex-wife and in a clever whim also have her play ~ get this ~ movie star Julia Roberts, who just happens to be a dead ringer for Julia’s character Tess. That was pretty much the entire premise of Ocean’s 12, which didn’t thrill fans as much as the first one, but still made enough of an impression (and enough of a haul, $232,832,634 worldwide as of March, 2005) to warrant doing it again. So here we are now with
Ocean's 13.

Julia is nowhere to be seen this time out since she was preggers during filming and growing larger with each waking moment. I’m sure George was afraid she might explode on him and spread her parenting germs his way, and Jules was probably afraid to get too near the set these days for fear that Brad’ quasi-Mrs. might make an appearance and adopt the fetus right out of her womb.
Instead, this time around the boys have added Ellen Barkin (Trust the Man) and her filtered camera lenses that are meant to trick us into believing she is still 30ish when she’s more than two decades past that dream. We’ve also got the addition of Luis Chávez (Delta Farce) in a dual role as good bad guy Nestor and his twin brother, who works in a dice-making factory in Mexico (don’t ask, it’s lame), but it is David Paymer (Resurrecting the Champ) as the absolute best comic relief ever that steals the show. His role, as a put-upon unnamed hotel critic on site to review evil Al Pacino’s new hotel, puts him in the sights of Danny Ocean and his boys, who are determined to make sure Pacino (88 Minutes), as Willie Bank, does not win the coveted “5 Star Diamond Award” for his outstanding new hotel. What these boys do to Paymer is not just wicked, but laugh out loud funny, and he couldn’t look more miserable if he tried.

Speaking of being miserable, that is the whole point of what sketchy plot there is here. Ocean's 13 is a revenge comedy, with Danny's gang out to screw over Pacino for doing Elliott Gould/Rueben wrong. Other than that, there’s nothing much to know except you are going to spend two hours feeling like you are hanging out with the A-Listers in their fancy penthouses, out by their pools, in their casinos, etc. In other words, it is not about the story. It’s about the cast, and you are playing voyeur. You pay your money and you get to watch George, Brad, Matt, Don, Bernie Mac (Pride) and the rest of the drop-ins sit around and chat. And don’t think they don’t know it. There’s plenty of filler between plot steps, designed just for the opportunity to watch Brad eat, Matt read, and George smile. Incessantly. But the pay-off is in these in-jokes, the winks to the audience, and they are scattered like buckshot throughout the movie, as if screenwriting partners Brian Koppelman and David Levien (Walking Tall) are also columnists for Entertainment Weekly. Look, especially, for George’s advice to Brad at the close of the movie. There’s nothing more prophetic (or timely) than that.

If you like your tabloid trash but you are pooped of Paris and beat by Britney, then here is the perfect alternative. There’s glitz, glitter, stars, and shallowness, all in a comfortable, air-conditioned rocker (at the
Essex Cinemas, that is) and it is all guaranteed 100% Lohan-free.

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