2001's remake of "Ocean's Eleven" was one of my favorites of the year. Heist movies seem to be at their best when the characters are living it up, and "Ocean's Eleven" had all the slick style and humor of classic Hollywood with a modern pace. Plus a great soundtrack that added to the atmosphere. So I had high hopes for the sequel, "Ocean's Twelve." Unfortunately, while the style is there, a vital component - the heist - is not, resulting in an unfocussed and unworthy sequel. Still, it showcases the whole gang back again, which was the main draw in the first place.
In "Ocean's Eleven," (a remake of the 1960 Rat Pack movie) repeat offender Danny Ocean (George Clooney) assembled ten other thieves to hit the Bellagio Casino in Las Vegas for a $160 million payday, as well as stealing back his ex-wife Tess (Julia Roberts) from casino owner Terry Benedict (Andy Garcia). "Ocean's Twelve" picks up over three years later. The Oceans are living - 'retired' - in suburbia, while the rest of the gang is spread across the country living legit lives. Rusty (Brad Pitt), for instance, owns a hotel, in which Topher Grace (again briefly appearing as himself in a great scene that takes a friendly jab at the upcoming "In Good Company") has a room. Their happy existences are shaken though when Benedict pays each of them a surprise visit, demanding his money back plus interest on a two-week deadline. So the gang reunites to pull a new heist to come up with the money.
Or so they think. Starting in Amsterdam and moving on to Rome, they face two additional challenges: Europol agent Isabel Lahiri (Catherine Zeta-Jones), who just happens to be Rusty's old flame, and European master thief The Night Fox (Vincent Cassel). The Night Fox demonstrates that there is no honor among thieves by first providing Benedict with the gang's locations, and then setting up the gang for disaster at every turn until he delivers his challenge: prove who is the best thief by stealing a Faberge' Imperial Coronation Egg from a Paris museum.
Where the romance of the first movie was between Danny and Tess, the couple of the sequel is Rusty and Isabel. Two scenes are flashbacks of their early relationship, and the current cat and mouse relationship is given a large amount of time. This is fine in and of itself - Pitt's constantly smiling and slickly dressed smooth operator is a fun character, and Zeta-Jones looks great in her on-the-ball detective role. Matt Damon's eager but still wet behind the ears protege is also given an increased role, which provides a good element of humor to the story. But these conceits leave less room for the other original characters (all of whom return), who generally spend their time hiding out from the law. Bernie Mac's humor and Don Cheadle's demolition skills are regretfully underused. Eddie Izzard appears as a new techie contact of Rusty's.
A bigger problem is the basic plot. In "Ocean's Eleven" the gang was after one target - the money in the casino (and Tess for Danny). Their they were headed for one thing. Here they are running away, forced to steal to save themselves, and choosing multiple items of no personal or high material value to snatch. The pacing and focus now feels much less cohesive, resulting in a 2+ hour movie that feels like a 2+ hour movie. In the first movie the audience was shown how each trick was done, but in the sequel there are a number of plot holes and implausibilities (particularly in regard to the Night Fox's feats) that are presented to the audience with only vague information to support them. Screenwriter George Nolfi's only previous writing credit was for work on the not-so-great "Timeline."
Production-wise, "Ocean's Twelve" feels even more like an independent production than its predecessor. Director Steven Soderbergh again serves two positions, working as his own cinematographer. I find his use of grainy film and blown out highlights to be distracting, though the effect is minimal on the dvd presentation of "Ocean's Eleven." Composer David Holmes provides the score again, but the mood for Twelve is more complex jazz and lacks the upbeat smoothness of Eleven's soundtrack. I won't be buying the cd as I did the for the first movie. Audiences expecting a swiftly paced story like the first may be disappointed and may find the history buff's heist flick "National Treasure" (released last month and still raking in box office dollars) more entertaining. There are some beautiful locales and trinkets here, but there are just as many drab apartments and jail cells to dull the overall look of the film. Still, it's head and shoulders above this year's heist flubs "The Big Bounce" and "After the Sunset." A compromise of indie sensibilities with a studio feel might be the Coen brothers' remake of "The Ladykillers."
On the other hand, those audience members who enjoy Soderbergh's style, find movies like "National Treasure" 'too easy' and prefer heist movies such as "The Good Thief" shouldn't turn away. "Ocean's Twelve" puts the characters, and even the stars themselves, above the story's objective. This group obviously loves working together, as well as making movies and simultaneously poking fun at the business, evident by Topher Grace's cameo as a version of himself, a longer sequence with Bruce Willis as himself interacting with Julia Roberts.
The Section Eight gang (Soderbergh's production company) seem to be forming their own rat pack: in addition to "Ocean's Eleven", the Clooney-directed Confessions of a Dangerous Mind" included roles for Clooney and Julia Roberts, with character cameos for Pitt and Damon. The upcoming "Syriana"* stars Clooney and includes Damon. Cheadle will direct and star in Section Eight's "Tishomingo Blues." Additionally, Pitt and Roberts costarred in "The Mexican" (for Dreamworks) and Clooney and Zeta-Jones costarred in "Intolerable Cruelty" (for Universal Pictures).
I found the movie to be disappointing, but fans of Clooney, Pitt, Damon, Roberts, and Zeta-Jones may find what they're looking for in "Ocean's Twelve."
Rated PG-13 for language.
2 hr 05 min.
Theatrical release: December 10, 2004, wide Official website
Clooney, Damon, and Pitt add the charm and mischief to "Ocean's Eleven"
...And Then What Happens?
*George Clooney (as well as yours truly, as an extra) stars in the CIA/mid-East drama "Syriana" due next year
Brad Pitt's epic "Troy" releases on dvd Jan. 4, and he stars in the actioner "Mr. and Mrs. Smith" next summer
Matt Damon's actioner "The Bourne Supremacy" releases on dvd Dec. 7, and he appears in "Syriana"
Julia Roberts stars in the harsh relationship drama "Closer" currently in theaters
Catherine Zeta-Jones stars in the sequel "The Legend of Zorro" next Fall
Vincent Cassel appears in the crime thriller "Derailed" next year
Steven Soderbergh directs a portion of drama "Eros" next summer