December 10, 2004
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Easy sailing sequel

By Scott Galupo

"Ocean's Twelve" is Steven Soderbergh's first sequel, and true to form, the director wasn't content to just top its predecessor, itself a remake. Although he has magnified some of "Ocean's Eleven's" distinguishing mannerisms — its arch humor, rhythmic dialogue, choreographed action and funkadelic soundtrack — "Twelve" brings on a fresh new aesthetic.
    Call it big-budget indie.
    Hollywood's supreme stylist, Mr. Soderbergh finagles himself a cast with more wattage than one movie should be allowed — they all worked cheaply on the promise of a piece of the action — and jets it across various American cities, European capitals and seaside palazzos. The result is a travelogue movie that drips wealth and taste.
    Add a lot of zoomy camera movements into frozen frames, jump cuts and retro-font captioning, and you have what looks like a very arty, very expensive French new wave reconstruction. It won't win awards, but it will make you lust for new threads, new credit card debt and more stamps on your passport. Its swirl of style and savoir faire is irresistible.
    Note: Don't try "Ocean's Twelve" — neither the criminality nor, especially, the designer-label clothes — at home. These are professionals, people.
    In "Twelve," Danny Ocean (George Clooney) and his 10 fashionista accomplices are liable for every penny of the $160 million they stole from Terry Benedict's Las Vegas vault — plus a usurious rate of interest, figures the biz-whiz of the bunch, Elliot Gould's outrageous Reuben Tishkoff.
    The cigar-puffing, ascot-wearing villain Benedict (Andy Garcia) and his bodyguard goons, acting on information supplied by a French crook (Vincent Cassel) out to topple Ocean's status as pre-eminent master thief, pay a visit to each of the Eleven, demanding his money back in two weeks, or it's off with heads.
    So it's over to Amsterdam for a quick job; "we're too hot to work in this country," says Matt Damon's pickpocket Linus Caldwell. All this is by way of bloated prelude. Mr. Soderbergh, working from George Nolfi's script, takes too long to get to the meat of the story, which is a contest with Mr. Cassel's Francois Toulour, aka the "Night Fox," to steal a Faberge egg from a Rome museum.
    Part of the extra fat in "Twelve" is welcome. Mr. Damon and Brad Pitt are given more substantial roles than in "Eleven." Linus, the tyro, eyes a role with greater responsibility; his fussy naivete is the butt of several punch lines. Mr. Pitt, as Ocean's right-hand man Rusty Ryan, risks operational integrity — just as Ocean did in "Eleven" in trying to win back wife Tess (Julia Roberts) — by attracting the attention of an ex-flame, Isabel Lahiri ("Ocean's" newcomer Catherine Zeta-Jones), who's now a Continental superdetective.
    As bickering twins Virgil and Turk Malloy, Casey Affleck and Scott Caan, too, are given more screen time, to less useful effect. The movie also finds more ingenious ways to hide the miniature contortionist Yen (Shaobo Qin). The great Don Cheadle (as Cockney-accented Basher), Carl Reiner (as old-timer Saul Bloom) and Bernie Mac (Frank Catton) are arguably underused.
    Is that everybody?
    Not quite.
    Having stayed behind in Connecticut, Miss Roberts' Tess re-emerges late for an audacious joke that will strike some as eminently clever and others as self-referential twaddle. Past Soderbergh players such as Albert Finney and Cherry Jones also make cameo appearances, as does another famous actor whose name I won't give away. Their parts are contrived to plug holes in a sprawling plot that favors panache over plausibility.
    When it ends at last, it sets up the skeleton of a premise for "Ocean's Thirteen," which is excellent news.
    Excess and all, this franchise is a winner.
    TITLE: "Ocean's Twelve"
    RATING: PG-13 (Some profanity)
    CREDITS: Directed and photographed by Steven Soderbergh. Produced by Jerry Weintraub. Characters by George Clayton Johnson and Jack Golden Russell. Written by George Nolfi. Original music by David Holmes.
    RUNNING TIME: 125 minutes.

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