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'Ocean's Thirteen' (***)

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Posted: Friday, June 15, 2007 10:00 pm

Given that the third entry in a series of films is usually the weakest link - a tradition that has continued in full force over the course of this summer movie season - "Ocean's Thirteen" should be seen as a success if for no other reason than its clear improvement over its most recent predecessor. It's not as tightly plotted or clever as "Ocean's Eleven" (not many heist flicks are), but it's most definitely a return to form for filmmaker Steven Soderbergh and his all-star cast after the narcissistic, self-congratulatory claptrap that was "Ocean's Twelve."

It appears that Soderbergh and company heeded the advice they received from disappointed audiences and critics after that little debacle, and as a result this third outing has everything viewers could want from a genre piece such as this: snazzy dialogue, complex scams and an air of sophistication that is engaging without coming across as smug. It may not be the most original movie out there, but it achieves what it sets out to do, and it accomplishes its goals with the smoothness and thoroughness of a well-oiled Hollywood machine.

Whereas the last entry in the Ocean saga was a heist film without a heist, "Ocean's Thirteen" is almost entirely concerned with the set-up and execution of the Ocean crew's latest caper. As the film opens, financier Reuben Tishkoff (Eliot Gould) is on his apparent death bed after suffering a heart attack stemming from a double-cross at the hands of his former business partner, Willie Bank (newcomer Al Pacino).

Almost immediately, Danny Ocean (George Clooney) and his band of merry specialists and con artists are at Reuben's side, plotting and scheming a way to get back at Bank, a notorious shyster loathed by almost everyone - including former Ocean target Terry Benedict (Andy Garcia), who becomes a reluctant ally in their plan to break the Bank and knock his ego down a peg or two in the process.

Their primary goal is to rig all the casino games in the gamblers' favor, thus costing Bank roughly $500 million within the span of a couple hours. The majority of the movie tracks their struggle to adapt to Bank's ultra high-tech security systems, and even use his own "foolproof" gadgets against him.

The scam involves everything from weighted roulette balls and magnetic dice (pretty low-tech methods - but the trick is to actually get them into the casino) to a $36 million drill used to create a man-made earthquake. There aren't many surprises in store for viewers, a la "Ocean's Eleven," but as predictable as things get, it's still fun to watch the gang's inventive and often painstaking methods of operation.

None of Ocean's crew really stand out this time around, but Pacino appears to be having a lot of fun with his villainous, scenery-chewing role. His Bank is the ultimate corporate baddie: cunning, egotistical and effortlessly ruthless - but not without his vulnerabilities. The film as a whole may lack that special spark of innovation, but Pacino is, as always, a true original, and alone is worth the price of admission.

"Ocean's Thirteen" is rated PG-13 for profanity.

Jason Wallis is a News-Sentinel copy editor. He can be reached at jwallis@runbox.com.

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