By Jack Garner
GANNETT NEWS SERVICE
It's often said of the original, Frank Sinatra "Ocean's Eleven" (1960) that the chief joy is watching the Rat Pack have so much fun making a movie. Their playfulness is infectious, even if the movie isn't exceptional.
That's the feeling you may glean from "Ocean's Twelve," the new sequel to the George Clooney "Ocean's Eleven" remake of 2001. With "Twelve," we sometimes feel we're watching a particularly well-made home movie of an elaborate party at which some of today's most beautiful people have a ton of fun while cavorting across Europe.
That's not a bad thing; but it also means we don't really buy "Ocean's Twelve" as an intriguing crime caper involving fictional characters.
Writer-director Steven Soderbergh even plays with the concept himself: In the film's best sequence one of the film's notable stars plays a character pretending to be that very same star.
The entire gang from "Eleven" returns, including Clooney, Brat Pitt, Julia Roberts, Matt Damon, Andy Garcia, Bernie Mac, Don Cheadle and more. The one major new character _ a detective on the trail of the thieves _ is played by Catherine Zeta-Jones. And at least two other notable actors make effective surprise cameos.
In "Ocean's Eleven," the gang pulls off a multimillion- dollar heist in Las Vegas, causing considerable harm and embarrassment to ruthless casino owner Terry Benedict (Garcia). As "Twelve" opens, Benedict has discovered the identity of the thieves and has hunted each of the 11 down and threatened to kill them unless they fork over the complete haul _ plus interest _ in two weeks.
Since Danny Ocean and his friends have spent most of their ill-gotten gains, they must now find a new caper to steal enough money to save their butts. They fly to Europe, where new targets promise lucrative rewards. Soon they're in competition with France's most famous thief (Vincent Cassel), while trying to stay one step ahead of authorities (represented by Zeta-Jones) and of Benedict's eager thugs.
The joke in "Twelve" is that the smooth operators of "Ocean's Eleven" turn into major-league bunglers.
Even more than in the first film, the plot here almost seems a distraction from what really matters _ the playful relationships, humorous asides and frat-house pranks of this Rat Pack of the New Millennium.
Though Clooney is the star, he hands most of the sequel over to others in the gang, particularly Damon (whose character is a nerdy, insecure and overly ambitious underling), newcomer Zeta-Jones (who has seldom seemed so fresh and frisky on film), and Roberts (who appears mostly in the final reel and nearly steals the picture).