Like a recovering alcoholic who crossed a pub and couldn’t keep walking I had a relapse this weekend and saw two lousy sequels, after going a few weeks now without coming within spitting distance of your various Shrek’s and Pirates. And like most relapses, after the initial high passed, I felt guilty and hollowed out and my head hurt. Sometime you need these sorts of experiences just to remind yourself of why you’re abstaining in the first place.
So what did I see? As expected I wavered and ultimately succumbed to the alleged breezy cool and stylish “fun” of Ocean’s 13 which wins the truth in advertising award by being proclaimed as “better than the last one.” True enough, although as Ocean’s 12 was two hours of some of the richest movie stars in the world tonguing their own assholes in lavish locations while wearing fitted suits, I’m searching my brain for a scenario where this wouldn’t be the case. An improvement yeah, but it’s not especially interesting even by the standards of the heist film which is a huge weakness of mine.
The question of the day is at what point did “cool” become a synonym for laziness? Ocean’s 13 doesn’t have confidence so much as it does indifference towards the comprehension and clarity of its own story. It reminds me of the title cards inserted into old films when a reel has gone missing, explaining what was excised. Ocean’s 13 should be littered with them reading “the gang does something clever to arrive at this new destination.” It’s not that I’m absolutely dying to know how, say, Brad Pitt winds up dressed as a security guard behind the scenes of an ultra-secure casino (which then allows him access to a helipad which will come into play later) or how Don Cheadle stumbles across an army helicopter. It’s that the film so completely takes for granted the fundamental brush strokes, only to pause for smug navel gazing (say getting weepy-eyed over Oprah), that in the end nothing’s especially impressive as most of the particulars have fallen into the screenwriters’ black holes. Since we’re never allowed into the film’s inner circle, because let’s face it, we’re just not cool enough to hang with these guys, there’s no tension to the film as we have no sense of what is or is not working. No one has to think quickly on their feet here as everything will go exactly as planned, even the events which clearly hinge upon failure.
Plus can someone please explain to me why the film’s bona-fide stars feel the need to disappear into their own movie. It goes without saying that in a film with this many character some are bound to get the short-shift (what part exactly is Bernie Mac playing in this particular heist? Anyone?), but Clooney, Pitt and Damon essentially recede into the background having been reduced to the roles of pimps and chauffeurs while Casey Affleck and Scott Caan run themselves ragged (it really is their film) and Cheadle gets to march out a procession of increasingly silly accents. Once upon a time everyone had a role to play and watching them excel at it was half the fun, now half the crew is on hand simply to stand around and look cool while the gimbals fall into place.
Furthermore, big time points off for a) essentially slipping Ellen Barkin Spanish fly and treating it as a joke and b) not even paying off the joke. Perhaps if the character was treated as something other than a pair of fake tits and a bobbed haircut than the urge to return to her may have been greater but really, what’s gained by reducing her to the role of horned up sorority girl and then pushing her off stage right (especially when Damon’s curious exit from the film would seem to be perfect for a rendezvous).
If I had moderate hopes for Ocean’s 13 then I had none for Hostel part II from Newton, Massachusetts’ favorite boorish frat boy, Eli Roth. Frankly I wish the film annoyed me as much as it clearly does some as I’ll take anger over boredom any day of the week. It amazes me how Roth continuously squanders this premise, which never really lives up to the Grand Guignol portent and prolonged, imaginative death set pieces the film clearly aspires to. Offensive less for the scenes of violence than for the sexual politics; the film isn’t smart enough to be a cautionary tale so it places its menagerie of leering Euro-trash hard-on’s right on the surface with only one of our heroines immune to the “charms” of the locals, and that’s only because it’s hinted she’s into girls (meaning her object of affection is a lipstick lesbian, femme fatale with a tendency to get naked). Sex is still either a boogey man or meant to invoke titters and as always it’s the ignorance of the characters which serve as their undoing. The greatest act of violation the film can conceive of is castration be garden sheers (in loving detail). Etc…
The film carbon copies the structure of the original with an unbearable amount of time dedicated to the film’s allegedly sympathetic victims, who’ve been granted a single personality trait a piece (with the exception of Lauren German who’s been given none other than “she’s the one who’s gonna live”) only for them to be plucked off in quick succession in the third act. The film actually has an interesting idea though in following Roger Bart and Richard Burgi’s mild-mannered, suburban businessmen on their journey to the killing floor (there’s even a really nicely cut, albeit not especially original, interlude showing them psyching themselves up like a couple of drunken college seniors on the prowl scored to classical music) but it serves more as a B-storyline to flesh out its villains instead of really warping the audience allegiances. The film never succeeds in getting behind what type of person gets off on torturing beautiful young women (like our director Mr. Roth clearly does) nor do any of its Abu Ghraib-like stabs at Western entitlement and corruption come close to hitting the target. In the end it’s another assembly-line junker no matter how much auteur clout Roth appears to have earned.
Next week no Fantastic Four 2 or Evan Almighty. Scouts honor.