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When the intrepid masterminds behind the still-kicking Friday the 13th series started making multiple sequels, sarcastic commentators inevitably made a version of the following witty remark: "What are they going to do - make Friday the 13th, like, Part a Million?"

This was a thrilling idea to me, as the subtitled possibilities, including Jason Tries Out for Oklahoma! and Jason Does Dallas, are happily endless.

Yet, as producer Jerry Weintraub and director Steven Soderbergh announced this week that they intend to make Ocean's Thirteen, the third instalment of the wretchedly dull series, with its lethargic cast intact, not one single battered observer screamed, " No mas. No mas."

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The plans for Ocean's Thirteen appear during an apparent stealthy revival of the heist/caper film, as evidenced in last year's remake of 1977's Fun with Dick and Jane, this year's remake of 1964's The Pink Panther, last week's release of the box-office winner Inside Man by Spike Lee, and the forthcoming Mission: Impossible III.

Television has made its own bold entry into the genre with NBC's new show Heist, which follows a group of career criminals who are infinitely more stylish than The Usual Suspects in their attempt to rob Hollywood blind with a multiple jewellery burglary just before the Oscars. This sexy show also includes a provocative subplot that involves the female lead detective of L.A.'s robbery/homicide division developing a big, girly crush on the caper's hunky "mastermind."

Bank robberies have always appealed to the popular imagination, as they evoke the pale virtue of the Robin Hood motive: to steal from the rich and give to the poor. As banks are such cold, impersonal institutions, they are the least morally objectionable targets. And their virtual impenetrability makes them a challenge to genuine thieves, like Canada's infamous Stopwatch Gang or the lateral thinkers of Jules Dassin's Topkapi, the 1964 movie that is the effective blueprint of all contemporary heist films.

While the original Ocean's Eleven has actual value as an ethnography of the folkways of the Rat Pack, to say nothing of the men's various distinctive idioms (one of the robbers is motivated by a diagnosis of cancer, a.k.a. "the big casino"), the remakes, and similar films, lack not only an ethical centre. They lack Frank Sinatra telling some broad to make herself scarce, baby!

When robbery and crime like this surfaced in film in the late sixties and the 1970s, it was hardly surprising. People were obsessed with the failure of America, and nursed an expansive sense of the heroism of any counterculture, from the Mafia, to the pathetic and doomed two-man robbery team in Dog Day Afternoon, to Bonnie and Clyde's gang.

But the period's films are also marked by a kind of ruthless nihilism that even the heroes cannot escape. The shooting deaths of Sonny Corleone in The Godfather, and of Arthur Penn's Parker and Barrow, remain among the most shocking overkills in cinema. Both reverberate, pointedly, with the still-vivid sound effects of the Vietnam war.

Lately the heist genre has been disquietingly glib: Fun with Dick and Jane for example, admittedly more of a caper flick, features a couple using guns to menace innocent bank tellers, a terrible act that cannot be buried under the film's frantic slapstick. The Ocean's Eleven guys are even worse, because they are simply suave ciphers, the kind of "heartless whores" Clint Eastwood gestures to in his own heist film, 1997's Absolute Power, which is ultimately a story about ingenuity's failure before altruism.

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The Heist crew is similarly cool, brandishing weapons like runway accessories, and treating the venal act of robbery as a slick enactment of the new cool; that is, acting unconscionably in really good outfits. Last year, 50 Cent was vilified for making Get Rich or Die Tryin', but his true story is directed toward getting away from crime, and his principled efforts are considerably more engaging than, say, Don Cheadles's Sammy Davis Jr.-haunted camaraderie with jackasses George Clooney and Brad Pitt.

Bank robberies are on the rise in North America. Recently, both the Recipe Card robber and the Camouflage Bandits, who rampaged through Greater Toronto and Southwestern Ontario, were arrested, and, unfortunately, remain known by nicknames other than Thieving Scum. Their deeds are a sign, in part, of our apparent refusal to view such crimes as the monstrous stuff of horror films.

It has been 12 years since Oliver Stone messily and exactly showed us, through the parodic figures Mickey and Mallory in Natural Born Killers, that the allure of outlaws is a fabrication of our own deep, awful desire to transgress daily lives that bore or punish us.

In that movie's soundtrack, the Cowboy Junkies cover Lou Reed's Sweet Jane, and sing, "Anyone who's ever had a heart/Wouldn't turn around and break it." It is heartless of us to forget how many people have been terrorized, attacked and murdered in bank robberies, as we sink into the interminable romance of the gun slinging rebel, who continues to hold our imaginations and simple decency hostage.

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