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December 10, 2004

Buzzin’ Dozen: ‘Oceans Twelve’ tests how much glam you can handle

By WALLACE BAINE

Sentinel film writer

If you could bottle the general fabulousness that seeps from every frame of "Ocean’s Twelve," the resulting elixir would most certainly be the most expensive potion in the known universe.

Gorgeous people in fetching clothes, hanging out in ravishing settings in old-Europe locales, playing slick and dazzling games of sleight-of-hand, all wrapped in a patina of effortless and tasteful style that disdains the cheap trappings of big diamonds and half-naked bimbos — it’s like heaven as art-directed by GQ.

The sequel to Steven Soderbergh’s 2001 hit "Ocean’s Eleven" is exactly the kind of movie we’d see more of if movie stars really had the power in Hollywood: a weekend with the gang, with no budget and the cameras rolling.

You’d have to be an awful grinch not to groove on the snappy adventures of Danny Ocean and his crew of international thieves. Soderbergh seems to realize that the "Ocean" franchise is hitting the same audience pleasure centers than the ever-diminishing James Bond franchise has hit for years. As a result, his film careens along with that combination of smug confidence and subtle humor than hip movie audiences can’t live without.

When we last left Danny (George Clooney) and his friends, they had just pulled off an audacious and brazen heist of $160 million from casino big shot Terry Benedict (Andy Garcia). Three years down the road, the thieves are livin’ large until Benedict somehow finds them one by one, giving them exactly two weeks to re-pay the money, with interest.

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Miraculously, the cast of "Ocean’s Eleven" returns intact, a conga line of needs-no-introduction movie stars such as Clooney, Brad Pitt, Julia Roberts, Matt Damon and Catherine Zeta-Jones with a great second-tier of character players including Garcia, Don Cheadle, Bernie Mac, Casey Affleck, Elliot Gould, Carl Reiner and Vincent Cassel. Throw in Jack Nicholson, and you have the green room at the Oscars.

Obviously, no one can be too selfish in such a crowded cast and everyone bows to the twin alphas of Clooney and Pitt. Thank goodness then for Matt Damon, willing to play overeager lieutenant Linus Caldwell who labors to emulate the natural command of leadership which Danny finds as easy as breathing.

Another stand-out is the radiant Zeta-Jones, new to the cast as Isabel Lahiri, a government agent hot on the trail of Ocean’s band of thieves. She and Pitt’s character, Rusty Ryan, have a past together (which the film’s intro brilliantly hints at). There’s a bit of Nancy Drew silliness about Isabel that keeps her from being entirely credible in the role as nemesis. But, hey, if you’re hung up about standards of credibility in a movie like this, you’re in the wrong theater.

Also worth mentioning is Gould, the one-time Hollywood icon now slumming in character parts. With enormous Jiminy Glick-style glasses and ridiculous suits, he plays the team’s clowning geezer with chutzpah. Too bad just about everyone else has to play second string, including the famous Ms. Roberts who appears early on, vanishes for the entire middle of the film, and re-emerges in one very funny sequence in which she’s called to on to impersonate ... let’s just say, someone very famous.

The plot is far too convoluted to do justice to here, but it leads to some interesting places, such as the Italianate villa of the vain but talented superthief Francois Toulour (French star Vincent Cassel) who provides the film’s biggest wow moment in an intricately choreographed dance in a museum hall as he evades the museum’s roaming laser sensors. When the film hits DVD, this will be the one lemee-see-that-again scene.

Will "Ocean’s Twelve" yield "Ocean’s Thirteen"? It’s doubtful, considering the scheduling nightmares of getting so many A-listers in the same room together. But with Bond creaking toward irrelevance, Hollywood could use a new delivery system for purely distilled cool-glam entertainment. The "Ocean’s" films provide a pretty hard-to-top blueprint.

Contact Wallace Baine at wbaine@santacruzsentinel.com.

If You Go

WHAT: ‘Ocean’s Twelve.’

RATING: PG-13: Some profanity.

WHERE: Santa Cruz 9, 460-2599; Scotts Valley Cinemas, 438-3260; Skyview Drive-In, 475-3405; Aptos Twin, 688-6541; Green Valley Cinemas, 761-8200.

LENGTH: Two hours, 10 minutes.

VERDICT: B+.





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