Characters at sea in an ocean of plot

2009-01-05 00:00

THIS year of movie thirds - Spider-Man, Pirates, Shrek, Ocean's - has set me thinking about the difference between book series and film series.

Book series often top reader polls of favourites, and in genre writing, the series is an established leader: think detective thrillers. As readers, we greet each new book as the return of old friends. We are eager to learn what the characters are up to now, how they have grown and changed and how they have stayed the same.

But film series, while playing on these same desires, mostly fail to deliver. The first film is fun, often mostly because we are introduced to the characters, but the imperative of film sequels is for more spectacle and thrills, and character is neglected. Audiences are supposed to remember the characters from before and to simply watch them going through more experiences.

Ocean's Eleven spent a good part of the film assembling Danny Ocean's crew, and each was introduced as a distinct personality, with a context and special skills to bring to the over-the-top enterprise of robbing the super-secure vault of a casino owned by the man who had stolen Danny's girl.

Ocean's Twelve moved the whole enterprise to Europe, and most people can't remember what happened.

Ocean's Thirteen finds the gang back in Las Vegas with revenge once again on their minds. Old-Vegas character Reuben Tishkoff (Elliott Gould) has been swindled by hotelier Willie Bank (Al Pacino). Reuben then suffers a heart attack and the guys gather to plot Bank's downfall as a way of reviving the old guy.

Bank is about to open a gigantic, gaudy new hotel and the team decide to break the bank. They're not stealing from him, but hoping to cause his punters to win - and here's the wrinkle - walk away.

As usual, the plans are complex and require the guys to worm their way into the intimate heart of the operation. The plot is really too convoluted to follow clearly, and anyone who didn't see Ocean's Eleven will truly be at sea. There are some funny moments - the best chuckle coming when Rusty (Brad Pitt) interrupts Danny (George Clooney) as he is getting teary while watching Oprah - and the stylishness is in place. Pacino is a brilliant old-Vegas character with his orange tan and mad-eyed attention to detail.

There's always one woman, and here she is played by Ellen Barkin, who has been absent from movies for years while married to a super-rich man, but she's no Julia Roberts, so that element is missing.

The film ends with the guys bidding each other farewell at the airport. See ya when I see ya, they tell each other. I hope not, frankly. ***

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