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Entertainment: Movies

Last modified Wednesday, December 8, 2004 12:56 PM PST

    "Ocean's Twelve" B+
    Starring: George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Matt Damon, Julia Roberts
    Director: Steven Soderbergh
    Studio: Warner Bros. Films
    Rated: PG-13 (for language)
    RT: 106 minutes

      'Ocean's Twelve' steals laughs, and the crime is welcome

      What a (comic) relief. After 2001's "Ocean's Eleven" confirmed that it is difficult for a great director to do something truly creative with a massive all-star ensemble, Steven Soderbergh strips things down for the sequel, and just lets it fly.

      The all-star cast is still in place, but this time the tedium is absent. Now not as concerned with providing a vaguely tense storyline, "Ocean's Twelve" goes for clever as its primary target. The result is a breezy film that makes fun of itself, its genre, its stars.

      Not a full-force lampoon, the film is an insider's wink, coolly accomplished. The gang has returned in force, and this time we are in on the joke. Smart jokes are usually better than good car chases, though there's something to be said for both.

      In "Ocean's Twelve," veteran heist organizer Danny Ocean, played by George Clooney, is mostly retired, happily married to Tess, played by Julia Roberts. Trouble comes calling in the form of Las Vegas casino owner Terry Benedict (Andy Garcia), who has located Ocean and the other 10 members of the gang who robbed him of multimillions three years earlier.

      The edict from Benedict is simple: Repay him the stolen money, plus interest, or suffer the deadly consequences. To make this happen, Ocean must reunite his crew and pull another heist. It's no easy task, given that his detail man, the ever-cool Rusty Ryan, played by Brad Pitt, is now deeply ensconced in romance with the persistent law official Isabel, played by Catherine Zeta-Jones.

      Rusty makes a quick getaway, with Isabel hot on his trail. The rest of the gang, played by the returning Matt Damon, Bernie Mac, Don Cheadle, Elliott Gould, Carl Reiner and the other familiar faces, convene in various European hot spots, where they engage in gigs that don't exactly go their way. The final challenge is a well-guarded Faberge egg. The question is whether they or a cunning French rival, a fellow master thief, will get to the egg first.

      All of this makes it sound like "Ocean's Twelve" is plot-driven, but that is so only to a point. The film is sprinkled with character depth and sentiment, and some lightweight action that won't leave viewers confusing the film with "Mission: Impossible." It is mostly an exercise in witty comebacks, though, strange asides and jazzy riffs. Without giving away one of the film's prized gags, the film allows the actors to make fun of their real-life personas while also playing the characters.

      All of that could end up an exercise in star-preening, but it's all handled with humility, juiced up by writer-director Steven Soderbergh's use of welcome heist-genre tricks ---- quick-cut editing, a horn-blaring score, wild wardrobe choices.

      The cast is obviously at ease with all of this, taking turns with the ham. There's Damon, playing the nervous klutz in an effort to diffuse any star-power aura. And Clooney, allowing his character desperation as he asks fellow characters if he really looks as if he's 50 years old. Some tell him he looks even older.

      In the end, the plot of "Ocean's Twelve" is left behind, even as treasures are masterfully swiped. That's a good thing, because "Ocean's Twelve" is all about the glamour, most important, the deconstruction of glamour in favor of self-deprecation. This new pack of rats did things much better this time, saying cheese for the camera with knowing smiles.

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