Review by Dustin Putman
2 stars out of 4
1960's "Ocean's Eleven," the original crime caper starring Frank Sinatra
and Dean Martin, wasn't followed by a sequel, but then, times were
different 45 years ago and not every major motion picture warranted
one. They still don't, and "Ocean's Twelve," the ego-driven follow-up
to the 2001 all-star remake, "Ocean's Eleven," is proof positive of
that. Once again directed by Steven Soderbergh (2002's "Solaris"),
who almost delights in taking on a project so far beneath his natural
talent, the film is an excuse to reunite the mega-wattage A-list cast,
who look like they're on vacation funning around with pals rather
than making a movie. The script and story make no difference in Soderbergh's
domain, who trusts that the attractiveness of his cast will save the
day. The humdinger is that he comes close to succeeding. The debit
is that he doesn't even seem to be trying.
It has been three years since the Ocean's Eleven gang stole $160-million
from a trio of Las Vegas hotels owned by cigar-chomping Terry Benedict
(Andy Garcia), and leader of the pack Danny Ocean (George Clooney)
has since semi-retired in marital bliss with the lovely Tess (Julia
Roberts). When Terry suddenly comes knocking, demanding the money
back that they stole within 14 days, the entire crew, including the
sneaky and suave Rusty Ryan (Brad Pitt) and outsider pickpocket Linus
Caldwell (Matt Damon), have no choice but to reconnect and start planning
another heist. Having worn out their welcome thieving in America,
they turn their attentions to Amsterdam and Rome. As the planning
and plotting get underway, Rusty spots his ex-girlfriend, ace detective
Isabel Lahiri (Catherine Zeta-Jones), in town and suspects the encounter
might not be a coincidence.
Photographed with a blemish-free veneer by Chris Connier and Steven
Soderbergh, "Ocean's Twelve" is so sleek and shiny one can nearly
see their own reflection while watching it. It is also so terminally
empty from a subjective level as to be transparent. "Ocean's Eleven"
held the same characteristics, but was better because it, at least,
treated its heist story with tension and seriousness. "Ocean's Twelve"
holds no suspense, the so-called heist arriving in a quick two-minute
flashback at the end that is snappily edited, but feels like a joke.
All of "Ocean's Twelve" feels like an elaborate prank, in fact, as
if Soderbergh had a couple weeks free and thought it would be entertaining
to shoot some film of his movie star friends, a justifiable point to it all, be damned.
Ultimately, even as mere buffoonery, "Ocean's Twelve" soars from scene
to scene in a diverting haze of exotic locations, spitfire technical
stylishness, quirky individual moments, and people so gorgeous they
should be arrested. By the third act, most of the characters do visit
the clink, but for a different reason altogether than sexiness. Director
Steven Soderbergh has a way of keeping the pace moving even when everything
is immobile, which is most of the movie, and is an incredible craftsman
when it comes to incorporating pitch-perfect musical choices—the jazzy-cum-techno
score by David Holmes (2002's "Analyze That") included—and snazzy,
hip scene transitions and editing techniques.
There are also a number of clever in-jokes and self-referential humor
that work gangbusters. The introduction to Ocean's Eleven member Basher
Tarr (Don Cheadle) is very funny, his rapid-fire profanity bleeped
out by natural room noises in an intentionally cheeky attempt to retain
a PG-13 rating. In another scene, Isabel's cell phone rings to the
recognizable beat of the Psychedelic Furs' '80s pop song, "Pretty
in Pink," and she holds off on answering it until the chorus has finished.
Best of all, in an elongated sequence so ingenious as to cause near-audible
giddiness from the viewer, Tess is brought in to join the Ocean's
squad in a last-ditch effort to free them from a pickle, posing as
a—shall we say—familiar face. This scene is so unbelievably daffy
that it probably shouldn't work, but does because the writing is sly
as a fox and Julia Roberts (2004's "Closer"), a great sport, tears
into the unlikely circumstance with relish.
If all of "Ocean's Twelve" held the same level of inspiration as this
centerpiece involving Roberts, the film would be worthy of recommending
and superior to the original. Unfortunately, the quick-witted tiny
moments are stuck in between huge sections of down-time where screenwriter
George Nolfi (2003's "Timeline") spins his wheels on air. The ensemble,
pleasing aesthetics and charisma notwithstanding, are grossly wasted
and forgettable—with two further exceptions besides Roberts. Matt
Damon (2004's "The Bourne Supremacy") gets better screen time as eager
pussycat Linus, who is tired of standing on the sidelines and wants
to be a more important part of the caper, while Catherine Zeta-Jones
(2004's "The Terminal")—a new face in the series—is the only actor
to treat their part as if it were in a credible film where character
shadings were asked for. Zeta-Jones is quite pleasant as Isabel, Rusty's
lost love, despite eating up a lot of time from the other actors on
a generally needless subplot. In comparison, Bernie Mac (2004's "Mr.
3000"), Casey Affleck (2000's "Drowning Mona"), Scott Caan (2001's
"American Outlaws"), and Don Cheadle (2004's "Hotel Rwanda") are barely
there at all, blending into the background and playing no decipherable part in the heist.
Sure, "Ocean's Twelve" has its beguiling aspects and is only meant
to be taken at face value, but a certain point comes in the proceedings
where even the silky exterior begins to tarnish. These characters
did not deserve another movie, and they certainly could have done
better than the trivial, valueless plot they have found themselves
in this time. Director Steven Soderbergh has made a pretty picture,
but not a good one, mistaking smug vapidity for outward attractiveness.
The last scene of "Ocean's Twelve" is the final straw, a dinner get-together
with the cast played to an upbeat soundtrack. As they laugh and cavort
with one another, the viewer watches them with a detachment only equaled
by a growing distaste for them. "Ocean's Twelve" is not only on autopilot,
it's so full of shameless vanity that each ticket stub should come
with a mirror, a make-up case, and a high-priced plastic surgeon.
Copyright © 2004 Dustin Putman