Julia Roberts and George Clooney in Warner Bros.
'Twelve' plays it for laughs
The Charlotte Observer
Friday, December 10, 2004
There's a scene in "Ocean's Twelve" where Julia Roberts, who is playing Danny Ocean's wife, pretends to be Julia Roberts to get private access to a museum. The ploy works until she meets Bruce Willis, who's playing Bruce Willis. He recognizes his old friend and asks her to call her house to locate his daughter's missing SpongeBob SquarePants toy. Soon the fake Julia is talking to the real Julia via cell phone.
If you're simultaneously laughing and scratching your head at the surreality of it all, you're in the right mood for "Twelve." This loose, slightly lazy sequel is both funnier than the original and more bizarre; though Danny and crew operate under a death threat for most of the movie, nobody seems to care.
A billionaire Frenchman (Vincent Cassel) has frustrated Europol with light-fingered work as the Night Fox. His pride is hurt when his now-retired mentor suggests that Ocean (George Clooney) is the world's greatest thief, because he masterminded the $97 million casino theft in "Ocean's Eleven."
The Night Fox learns the location of the Vegas heisters and tips off Benedict, the casino owner they humiliated (Andy Garcia). Though he was paid back by the insurance company, Benedict gives them two weeks to raise twice the money they took or die.
The Night Fox then makes Ocean a wager: If Danny's gang can successfully steal a Faberge egg, he'll pay Benedict $190 million. If they can't, they'll have to admit his superiority before Benedict whacks them -- or, perhaps, before Europol cop Isabel Lahiri (Catherine Zeta-Jones) puts them all in prison for 20 years.
Say, did I mention that Isabel had a love affair long ago with Rusty Ryan (Brad Pitt), not knowing he was Ocean's right-hand man? Or that Isabel's father happens to be the guy who started all the trouble by needling the Night Fox? Gosh, Europe sure is a small continent.
Anyhow, new writer George Nolfi and ongoing director Steven Soderbergh don't sweat things like continuity or logic.
At one point, they send diminutive gymnast Shaobo Qin off inside a suitcase, and he becomes a lost-luggage casualty in a different city. That has nothing to do with the plot -- he's back before the Faberge heist -- but you can tell one of the filmmakers said, "Hey, Shaobo fits inside a suitcase. That'll get a heck of a laugh!" The whole film seems casual, almost improvisatory, which turns out to be a good idea perhaps half of the time.
There are more serious plot lapses. Saul (Carl Reiner) quits the gang early, because of bad health and contempt for Benedict's threats. Yet he swings into action later -- you're surprised? -- and knows where to find his pals at a crucial time, though nobody has briefed him. Isabel steals Rusty's cell phone, yet Rusty's so dumb that he gives that stolen number to a forger, who unwittingly spills the beans to Isabel.
Characters change allegiances and attitudes like you and I change underwear. Some thefts come off, some don't, but nothing matters as the story happily doubles back on itself with sting after sting. Soderbergh runs a happy set, and the movie feels even more like an extended Rat Pack party than "Ocean's Eleven."
Clooney, Pitt and Matt Damon handle the zinging and clowning most easily. Because Roberts and Zeta-Jones play big roles, supporting characters get shoved to the back: Don Cheadle contributes almost nothing as the Cockney electronics expert, Scott Caan and Casey Affleck bring little to the picture beyond bickering banter, and Bernie Mac goes quickly to jail and stays there.
This doesn't feel quite right, because the 1960 "Ocean's Eleven" and the 2001 remake were designed to be all-male ventures. Women don't fit comfortably into these stories; career thieves put romance behind their profession, and a criminous boys' club like this one wouldn't be likely to admit girls (however larcenously talented) on an equal footing.
Andy Garcia, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Matt Damon, George Clooney, Brad Pitt
Thursday, December 9
Mary F. Pols
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