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Posted on Wed, Dec. 08, 2004
 
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Brad Pitt and Catherine Zeta-Jones in "Ocean's Twelve."
Brad Pitt and Catherine Zeta-Jones in "Ocean's Twelve."

The pack is back


IMPROBABLE SEQUEL LACKS CHARM OF 'ELEVEN'



San Jose Mercury News

REVIEW: Ocean's 12
MPAA rating: PG-13 (for language)
Running time: 2:05
Cast: Andy Garcia, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Matt Damon, George Clooney, Brad Pitt
Directed and written by: Steven Soderbergh


MORE
» Catherine Zeta-Jones enters 'den of lions' with 'Ocean's Twelve'
» Multimedia | View trailer for 'Ocean's 12'

With "Ocean's Twelve," Hollywood moves a step closer to the glorious day when it will no longer have to rouse itself to the bothersome task of making movies at all, skipping straight ahead to what the studios truly care about: the marketing campaign.

This sequel to the 2001 remake of "Ocean's Eleven" achieves a fusion with its own marketing machinery that is so synergistically perfect and adoringly self-referential that the movie and the gushy Diane Sawyer cast infomercial on "Primetime Live" become indistinguishable, one from another. (They like each other, they really like each other!) Both the movie and the marketing campaign are packaged slickly enough to be released directly into 3,000 theaters. It's a Rat Pack movie designed by B.F. Skinner.

According to the marketers' catch phrase, "Twelve is the new Eleven," but most of the time, "Twelve" into "Eleven" won't go. Too clever by half, this movie makes only one real connection with the first one -- the characters. The Purty Dozen once again are led by Danny Ocean (George Clooney), who has settled into a bleak suburban hell, brightened only by his wife's color swatches.

Tess (Julia Roberts) appears to be expecting; first a baby, then anything but the unexpected, which arrives one day in the shape of her former boyfriend, Las Vegas casino owner Terry Benedict (Andy Garcia). It was Benedict's casino that was robbed in "Ocean's Eleven," and after brooding about it for three years, he is threatening to kill everyone involved unless he gets his money back in two weeks. With interest.

That comes to $19 million a man, which sets in motion a series of reunion heists to pay Benedict back. Ocean's gang has grown so meek and mild that it accepts this dunning notice without complaint, as if it were an overdue notice from AmEx. These criminals evidently understood during the original caper -- even though we did not -- that if the guy they were ripping off decided three years later he wanted his $160 million back, they would, of course, be obliged to give it back.

When that's settled, it is decided in the blink of an eye that the job must be pulled off in Europe, where they presumably will try to rob someone less likely to ask for a refund. Even this idea, however, is immediately undercut by the size of the score -- $2.5 million, a mere drop in the Benedict bucket -- and by the presence of Isabel Lahiri (Catherine Zeta-Jones), a Europol detective who also just happens to be the ex-girlfriend of Rusty Ryan (Brad Pitt). Ever since Rusty ran out on her, she's been looking for revenge.

It's weird enough that they would waste so much time on such a relative pittance, but when it turns out that a certain window doesn't provide the necessary "line of sight" for a pinpoint shot from a crossbow (well, natch), they have to jack the building up on its pilings. This part of the movie feels like watching construction on the Bay Bridge, with a soundtrack that re-creates the chorus of jackhammers.

If the point of the first movie was to re-create a bit of '60s zeitgeist with this reformulated Rat Pack -- so cool that the film was able to skate along on the thin ice of the actors' good looks and charm -- this time director Steven Soderbergh seems to want to make things so difficult that the boys look like bumblers.

This is especially true when they are pitted against a rich playboy called the Night Fox (played by Vincent Cassel), a contortionist who apparently robs as a kind of open-ended audition for Cirque du Soleil. He proposes a competition to Ocean: First one to steal a priceless Faberge egg wins. If Ocean's crew gets there first, he will repay their debt to Benedict.

It would rob the movie of what pleasures it has to offer to tell what happens next, but with eight-elevenths of Ocean's gang cooling its heels in the Roman slammer, the picture's junior varsity rides to the rescue with several funny scenes. At one point during the climactic heist, when Carl Reiner (playing octogenarian operator Saul Bloom) takes the arm of Tess Ocean, Roberts begins to look and sound a lot like Laura Petrie of Reiner's old "Dick Van Dyke Show."

Oh, rob.


Contact Bruce Newman at bnewman@mercurynews.com or (408) 920-5004.

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