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Ocean's 12: More is, well, more.
Posted by blehman on 2004/12/10 12:55:42

Whenever a sequel comes out to a movie, I find myself wondering the same thing: is there really more story to be told? Unfortunately, the answer is usually no; the sequel is now a half-hearted attempt to cash in on the success of its predecessor (or worse, establish a franchise), and does so with a warmed-over plot, rarely adding to the story or the development of the main characters. Regular movie viewers need only remember as far back as Bridget Jones: Edge of Reason for an example.

When I first saw the trailer for Oceanís 12, I felt fairly sure that this movie would fall squarely into that trap. After all, the first one was a charming caper, a nice ensemble movie that rolled along smartly, but never really worked to develop its characters. It was a fun mixture of plot and charm, and it told a fairly complete story.

It was therefore gratifying to watch the sequel unfold, and find that Steven Soderbergh et al. actually did decide to make a different movie. There are, of course, a few common elements with the first movie. Along with bringing back the entire crew (and then some; there are a few great cameos, including the always funny Eddie Izzard among other fun guest cameos), there is a romantic conflict between one of the thieves and a former lover. This time, the chilly chemistry between George Clooney and Julia Roberts is replaced by the much more enjoyable rapport between Brad Pitt and Catherine Zeta Jones, who plays a Europol agent obsessed with catching the great purloiners of our time while dressing in stylish outfits. And there is a heist or two.

The differences are greater than the similarities, though, and the movie retains a spark of invention. The secondary characters are more stylized than the first time around, particularly Andy Garcia. In the first film, as Terry Benedict, he was a hard-nosed casino boss who, given a darker tone to the movie, could have been very much like Alec Baldwinís evil character in The Cooler. This time around, he more closely resembles a James Bond villain, sauntering around with sunglasses, a cane, and some silly suits, and looking like heís having great fun doing it. Similarly, Elliot Gould pushes his nebbish character into Jerry-Lewis like comic territory.

The most stylized of the bunch, though, might be Ďthe Black Fox,í a cat burglar of storied proportions who takes an interest in Danny Oceanís gang. For his own reasons, he decides to set up a competition between himself and the crew. For stakes, he tells Benedict the whereabouts of the crew, but offers to essentially buy their freedom if they can score a heist of a high-profile museum piece before he does, and within a two-week limit.

This character, and this competition, really propel the movie along quite nicely. As the Black Fox, Vincent Cassel oozes the same sort of likeable charm that his castmates have, in a French sort of way. He is too fun to hate, and besides, he doesnít really seem to have any malice in his heart. As a solitary cat burglar of the old school, he reminds me of no one more than Cary Grant in To Catch a Thief. He thinks itís all a game, so the movie plays out as if it were one. Soderbergh reinforces that the game is still afoot through his constant reminders of the time remaining, as well as through his quirky (or are they artful?) transitions from one scene to another.

With such a large cast (with the additions of Zeta Jones and Cassel, and 4 or 5 memorable cameos, the movie could just as easily have been called Oceanís 18), a number of very talented actors only saw the screen for a few minutes. Bernie Mac gets particularly short shrift, and Don Cheadle, Casey Affleck and Scott Caan donít fare a whole lot better. One characters is forgotten for half the movie, then finds a great deal of screen time later on. Among the highlights, Brad Pitt does a great job, supplanting George Clooney as the presumptive leader of the pack, and Matt Damon does well as he aspires to upper management in the world of larceny.

The other downside to this otherwise enjoyable caper is that there is a plot hole or two that just struck me a little wrong after thinking about them. The plot could have been just a little bit tighter than it was. While certainly fun in the moment, it should have been constructed just a bit more carefully, as it was in the first film. Overall, though, the charm is certainly not lost. In fact, it is enhanced by a better romance, a fun new character, and a more fanciful plot. For once, after watching a sequel, I didnít feel like I had gotten robbed.

Grade: A-

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Posted: 2004/12/10 16:00  Updated: 2004/12/10 16:00
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 Re: Ocean's 12: More is, well, more.
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