At a time when critics sneer at sequels and remakes, "Ocean's Twelve" dares to be a sequel to a remake. Happily, it uses polish and wit to disarm objections.
Like the 2001 "Ocean's Eleven," the new chapter boasts such neglected virtues as crafty plot and zingy dialogue. It's reminiscent of the best '60s globe-hopping caper flicks, showing international intrigue at its most glamorous but filtered through a contemporary perspective.
The neon jungles of Las Vegas play only a small part in this one. The plot spins on multiple heists, involving such locales as Paris, Amsterdam, Rome and Lake Como, Italy. The settings look great, and so does the film's galaxy of stars. If George Clooney dominated "O-Eleven," he democratically takes something of a back seat here. Not only do Brad Pitt and Matt Damon have more dialogue, they're also more pivotal to the plot.
Clooney is still the leader of the pack, a role he fulfills with a confidence and authority that, at this juncture, remain untainted by smugness. More than any other actor of his generation, he recalls the flair of Cary Grant.
Pitt's mellow coolness in "O-Eleven" was never fully applauded. In that film, his throwaway line about the color taupe always brings grins. In "O-Twelve," he's more aggressive while still maintaining a deceptively nonchalant aura. Damon cheerfully reprises his role of eternally naive pickpocket Linus, albeit less meekly than before. This time out, Linus has an uptight penchant for political correctness.
Catherine Zeta-Jones makes her "Ocean's" debut as an elegant Europol agent who has a score to settle with Pitt. She performs with warmth and credibility.
And this brings us to Julia Roberts. The movie is obviously a good-sport turn for her, and she actually attempts to submerge her star persona. But she's less successful in "O-Twelve" than in "Closer." Her presence capsizes the story, and a plot twist involving her character threatens to cross the barrier between cleverness and preciousness. A group-hug finale may make you feel like you're being allowed to eavesdrop on a private club.
Ultimately, "Ocean's Twelve's" major player is director Steven Soderbergh. He's also the film's uncredited cinematographer, allowing a unity not often found in mainstream moviemaking.
As in "Traffic," he keeps a complicated plot and a multitude of characters in focus, and his sense of scene composition helps elevate the film above its potentially fluffy status.
"Ocean's Twelve" works like a short-term charm. In several years, you won't remember much about the movie except what a good time you had watching it.