"Ocean's Twelve" isn't necessarily one up on "Ocean's Eleven" -- Steven Soderbergh's glossy, amiable, all-star 2001 remake of the Frank Sinatra heist thriller -- but it doesn't really have to be. Sometimes a movie works simply because everyone involved (Soderbergh included) showed up for work, and that's pretty much the case here. If the 2001 and 1960 versions didn't need good scripts or good notices to rally and amuse audiences, neither, probably, does this one.
Cooler than cool when it wants to be, fast and dry as a Maserati with a shaker of martinis, and packed with roguish glances and sleek trimmings, this new "Ocean" returns the ensemble gang of thieves, victims, cops and bystanders (including George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Don Cheadle and Bernie Mac, plus Julia Roberts and Andy Garcia) and sets them loose in Rome for another string of heists -- with a few new all-stars wandering in for the fun.
That should make for surefire entertainment, and it does. In fact, this movie often seems like a big, swinging party with a can't-miss guest list. Not only is the elite 11 back, including Elliot Gould and Carl Reiner as the older pros and Casey Affleck, Scott Caan, Eddie Jamison and Shaobo Qin as the younger ones, but Catherine Zeta-Jones has signed on, and people like Robbie Coltrane, Cherry Jones, Jeroen Krabbe (and even producer Jerry Weintraub) keep popping up at odd moments.
Unhappily, the reason for the bash isn't too ingenious. This time around, the Danny Ocean (Clooney) gang is uncovered by their previous casino-czar pigeon, Terry Benedict (Garcia), who demands reimbursement plus interest from the whole crew. Mostly mired in a lot of failed or boring "go-straight" attempts since that glorious job, the 11 reassemble and try to scrape together the $160 million-plus booty for Benedict through a series of European heists, since they're too hot in the States.
The boys have a second nemesis: master criminal Francois "Night Fox" Toulour (Vincent Cassel), who's angry because he feels Ocean's gang got undeserved renown for the Vegas robbery, especially from Toulour's mysterious French mentor (played by an unbilled all-star). Monitoring their every move, swooping in to grab the swag before they can and sneering at them with an infuriating Gallic twinkle, Francois proves a real annoyance. So does Isabel Lahiri (Zeta-Jones), an international cop and ex-girlfriend of Rusty Ryan (Pitt) -- meaning that the once-swaggering criminals are trying to ply their larcenous trade while being hindered from three sides.
The 12th member of the gang, by the way, is Roberts, who in the last movie was torn romantically between Ocean and Benedict. Here, she's married to Danny again and, by the end, a full-fledged robber. I have to admit that her big scene -- which I won't spoil but involves a multi-layered inside joke -- made me laugh. "Ocean's Twelve" could use more such moments. The robberies we see here (like the ones in the recent remake of "The Italian Job") are so complex, unlikely and thoroughly peeped on by both cops and rival crooks that it's a wonder they make any money at all -- even more of a wonder when you notice how lackadaisical and fun-loving they all stay in the face of such insurmountable odds and nonstop catastrophes (Matt Damon's nervous Linus Caldwell excepted).
Sometimes it's more fun to watch one well-planned robbery -- like the one in the 1955 French noir classic "Rififi" -- than to get hung up, as this movie does, in all these fancy multimillion-dollar jobs going fancily wrong. "Ocean's Twelve," likable as it is, suffers from a modern big-movie vice: overkill. The script has been cobbled together from Soderbergh's ideas and another heist screenplay, "Honor Among Thieves," by co-writer George Nolfi -- a script originally intended for John Woo. You can practically see the seams.
Still, "Ocean's Twelve" is one of those movies I liked despite myself. It's big, expensive and full of good-looking, gifted people having a good time -- and the improbable plotting is part of the charm, as it was in the both the 2001 and 1960 versions of "Ocean's Eleven." (The 1960 version, with Sinatra, Dino, Sammy Davis Jr. and the rest of the emsemble cutting up on camera, exactly prefigures the what-the-hell attitude of "Ocean's Twelve.")
Clooney, Pitt and Damon remain three of the more likable and attractively self-kidding movie star/sex symbols around; the supporting cast members (especially Cheadle, Mac, Reiner and Gould) shine when they can; and Roberts and Zeta-Jones have as much fun as the guys. They all act as if their images were a joke and the movie a hoot as well, which it often is.
No sequel that has as many good actors and classy technicians as "Ocean's Twelve" -- or as smart and crafty a director as Soderbergh -- is going to be a loss. The worst thing you can say here is that everybody on the guest list of "Ocean's Twelve" is capable of better, even if the party is, as Frank would say, kind of a gasser.