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Soderbergh Takes ‘Ocean’s’ Franchise Into Overdrive

Thursday, December 9, 2004
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In "Ocean’s Twelve," Rusty Ryan (Brad Pitt) revives his wardrobe from the first film: he’s all shiny shirts, pimp-daddy suits, and tasteful-but-lustrous bling. "Twelve" itself has all the flash of one of Rusty’s more cornea-scaring ensembles, but you get the feeling that there’s nothing to lend the fabric shape: the clothes have no emperor.

While this scenario may have some perks (and it does suggest that there’s a naked Brad Pitt running around somewhere - never a bad thing), on the whole, it leads to a rather empty movie-going experience. When I first saw Steven Soderbergh’s remake of "Ocean’s Eleven," I didn’t think it was possible for an entertaining movie to have less substance, but I was wrong - in more ways than one. First, I must admit that "Eleven" has held up astonishly well in repeated —and I do mean repeated—do they ever air anything else?—HBO viewings. And then there’s "Ocean’s Twelve."

The sequel finds Danny Ocean (George Clooney) and his crew trying—and in most cases, failing—to go straight three years after their successful heist of Terry Benedict’s (Andy Garcia) Vegas vault. But when—in one of the film’s best sequences—Benedict inevitably (and amusingly) catches up with them, they’re given two weeks to pay back the money they stole—with interest—or Benedict’ll start using that omnipresent cane of his in a ways I really don’t want to think about.

Of course, none of them have the dough, so they have to earn it—which is to say, steal it. So they jet off to Amsterdam, where, one suspects, some serious heist-antics will ensue.

If only things were that simple. If only we could get to watch a single heist all the way through—this is, after all, a heist film. But alas. Instead we have Catherine Zeta-Jones, some French dude, and way too much meta humor. Not exactly a fair trade in my book.

Which is not to say that "Ocean’s Twelve" isn’t fun—it is. Soderbergh directs with his usual pizazz, George Nolfi’s script is not without its witty moments, and the cast ... well. You know about the cast. It would be difficult to assemble said group of people in a single film and not earn at least a grin.

Unfortunately, whereas in "Eleven" the quirky repartee between Ocean’s crew provided the seasoning to an already savory, straightforward heist flick, "Twelve" attempts to pass it off as a whole meal. And as much as I’d love to see a film that’s nothing but Danny and Rusty sitting in a room and snarking at each other for two hours, the same can’t be said for the characters played by, say, Casey Affleck and Scott Caan.

The "Ocean" movies are, at heart, an ensemble pieces, and for an ensemble to really work, it’s got to be doing something. In "Twelve," Ocean’s team has no clear objective, nothing to lustily set their sights upon. And—Pitt and Clooney excepted—neither do we.

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