Hollywood Product - Ocean's Thirteen

Director Steven Soderbergh reunites his gang of thieves

Genre: Heist picture

The pitch: Unflappable thief Danny Ocean (George Clooney) enlists his hip band of con artists to sting scuzzy casino magnate Willie Bank (Al Pacino), who swindled their senior cohort Reuben (Elliott Gould). It's all scams, no boring romantic subplots.

Money shots: Shaobo Qin's acrobat dodges the Bank Hotel's supersonic elevators. Neon CGI dollar figures show the audience the rigged payouts across the casino floor. Ocean's team subjects a hotel critic (David Paymer) to hilarious torments to ensure the Bank's review (and may represent payback against the cast's own detractors).

Fashion statements: Key signature accessories include Carl Reiner's fishing hats, Elliott Gould's TV-screen-size eyeglasses and the humorously huge mustaches the team wears while incognito. Don Cheadle struts around in a star-spangled, Evel Knievel-style jumpsuit, complete with American flag decals for his teeth. But nothing proves so mesmerizing as Al Pacino's fake-looking, nuclear suntan. You can't take your eyes off it.

Cameos: Neither Julia Roberts nor Catherine Zeta-Jones is back – and they're not particularly missed – but Ocean's Thirteen secures a pop-in from the most powerful woman in show business, known for a certain daytime talk show. Bob Einstein, aka "Super Dave Osborne," and Ocean's Twelve's cat burglar Vincent Cassel have amusing small roles.

Best line: "There's a code among guys who shook Sinatra's hand," protests Reuben. "Screw Sinatra's hand," retorts Bank. (Ew.) Bank also brags, "I slice like a goddamn hammer."

Worst line: "Perhaps you'd like to talk to Mr. Wang," says Matt Damon, hitting an unnecessary pun during his attempted seduction of Ellen Barkin.

Flesh factor: Some highly unwelcome buffalo shots during a sumo wrestling match. Near the end, Barkin seems on the verge of spilling out of her tight, bright dresses, but never actually does.

Hit single: "This Town," by Frank Sinatra, which gets points for being one of his lesser-known numbers. Also, 1960s space-age pop such as Puccio Roelens' "Caravan" accompanies the nonstop capers and montages, but the most amusing song cue may be the Human League's "Don't You Want Me" ringtone on Brad Pitt's cell phone.

Product placement: Zapata Tequila plays a key role when Scott Caan and Casey Affleck's roles foment revolution in a Mexican factory. A Samsung telephone gets a similar showcase at the end. What Ocean's Thirteen is really selling, though, is the hedonistic ideal of Las Vegas itself, and its notion of the city's "honorable" past and the good, clean fun of today may be the film's biggest con.

Better than the first two? Thirteen is almost as good as Eleven and loads better than Twelve. The funny thing is that the best of the flashy, frivolous Ocean's movies are so much better than director Steven Soderbergh's recent would-be serious films such as Full Frontal, Solaris and The Good German. You almost feel bad for him.

The bottom line: For a film that hinges on gambling, Ocean's Thirteen plays for almost no emotional stakes; the heroes exist merely to be handsome and/or funny. Despite plot complexity that crosses the line into incoherence, Thirteen stays so light on its feet, and Pacino makes such a satisfying, happy-to-be-evil villain, that Soderbergh and company hit the jackpot anyway.

4 stars