Dopey dozen

Sequel to a remake sinks fast
Friday, December 10, 2004
Star-Ledger Staff

There seems to be an insatiable public appetite for pictures of movie stars on vacation, with tabloid after tabloid offering sneaky snapshots of famous people unwinding in exotic places.

Apparently, director Steven Soderbergh thinks there's such a demand to see celebrities at play in destination cities, he can build an entire film around it.

"Ocean's Twelve" trails George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon and Co. around Europe's most scenic spots. No one labors much over plot or character. Instead, we get to watch pretty people loafing around luxury hotels discussing Coen Brothers' movies and making wisecracks about publicists.

The flick is so insider, it virtually implodes, and the audience is the collateral damage.

While "Ocean's Eleven" wasn't Tolstoy, there was some semblance of storytelling at its core. The remake of a flawed Rat Pack caper was graced with flash, irony and a feel-good ending. It was the rare second take that improved upon the original.

The movie had its smugness, but it offered more than clever banter. The kick was in seeing how the band of thieves sassed their way around a casino security system that made Fort Knox look like a gym locker.

Instead of focusing on one brazen break-in, "Ocean's Twelve" scatters its story and characters around Europe, as they commit hodgepodge heists that are all but impossible to follow.

Not only is the tale scrambled beyond cognition, it is aware of its own messiness. Throughout the film, characters express their confusion with the proceedings. This cute metadramatic commentary only adds another layer of annoyance to the viewing experience.

Written by George Nolfi, whose only previous credit is the flop "Timeline," the movie catches up with the gang three years after the Vegas job. Mastermind Danny Ocean (Clooney) has semi-retired from the con biz and is living in the New York suburbs with Tess (Julia Roberts), whom he's remarried. The rest of his partners in crime are quietly enjoying their fortunes, settled in places like West Hollywood, East Hampton and East Orange (Bernie Mac's character lives in the Essex County city).

They're lured back into lawlessness when bilked casino owner Terry Benedict (Andy Garcia) pays each one of them a visit and demands his money back. Faster than you can say "Frivolous sequel," they cross the Atlantic to snatch euros so they can get Terry off their tail.

Crowding the narrative are new characters like Isabel (Catherine Zeta-Jones), a crime-fighter who has a romantic history with Rusty (Pitt); and Francois, a k a the Night Fox (Vincent Cassel), a talented crook who challenges the Ocean gang to outwit him. There are also constant references to a legendary thief named Gasper, who is presumed dead. But is he?

The movie is such a mirror maze of reversals, betrayals, aimless cameos and trampled fourth walls, one begins to wonder whether the story was conceived in an Amsterdam hash bar. A witty line here and there, along with an impressive stunt or camera trick, doesn't make the picture any less of a swindle.

The advertisements say that "Twelve is the new eleven." Sorry, but we preferred the old "Eleven."

Rating note: The film contains strong language, some alcohol sipping and pervasive post-modern confusion.

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© 2004 The Star-Ledger. Used by with permission.
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