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Watered down

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EYE CANDY: Matt Damon, Brad Pitt and George Clooney heat up the big screen in "Ocean's 13."
  • EYE CANDY: Matt Damon, Brad Pitt and George Clooney heat up the big screen in "Ocean's 13."

I was more than a bit nervous — full of dread, more accurately — when a gaggle of giggly girls came tripping and bouncing their way into the “Ocean’s 13” matinee and plopped down right next to me. I sighed and braced myself for annoyance, even scouted a few seats over my shoulder where I could emigrate if the noise pollution got to be unbearable. But to my surprise, they all sat in dead silence, focused upon the screen so intently you’d have thought they were watching a recipe for fat-burning waffles. They behaved, in short, the way you’re supposed to behave at a movie, the way no teen-ager at the Rave does.

Such is the power of The Pitt.

The movie itself? Not bad, though not what you’d hope it to be, and easily the weakest of the series. The setup? Takes all of about five minutes, and feels like what it is, Our Excuse for the Caper. To wit:

Reuben (Elliott Gould) is taken in a casino development deal by crooked hotelier Willie Bank (Al Pacino). Reuben cracks under the strain and suffers massive heart failure. The only thing that can bring him back? Why, a reason to live, that’s what. And what better reason to live than watching your enemy destroyed by some Rube Goldberg-esque con scheme?

Director Steven Soderbergh understands perfectly the proper way to remake movies. If you’re going to do a remake, you don’t fart around with classics like “Planet of the Apes” or “Psycho,” you choose bad, semi-obscure movies (like, say, a goofy Rat Pack heist movie that was really one big excuse for Dean Martin to sing “Ain’t That a Kick in the Head” fourteen times), and then you have a ball with the redecorating. The result was “Ocean’s 11,” twice the heist picture of the original and good enough to support a sequel that was, if thin on plot and propped up by cliche, satisfyingly full of double-crosses and plot twists, at least a couple of which you probably didn’t see coming.

This time out, though, even the twists and turns aren’t all that twisty and turny. The double-crosses? Not so much double-crossy. “Ocean’s 13” seems to try to coast on charm and yucks, and it happens to be both charming and funny enough to carry you through it, but you don’t get that same sense of spectacle and excitement you got from the first two. It’s just a bit too cute and fluffy and self-consciously hip not to have a good enough payoff at the end — and with movies like these, the ending is almost the only thing that matters. Soderbergh seems aware of this and tries to get away with stealing the ending from “Ocean’s 11” (the first ending, not the ill-advised second one), but of course that plays just how it sounds.

I suppose the fairest thing of all is to judge it according to kind and compare it to other movie thirds, a category of filmmaking that even managed to swallow whole the likes of Francis Ford Coppola. On that scale, rank this Way Better Than “The Godfather III.”

Matt Reed

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