Ocean's Twelve

By Paul Byrnes
December 16, 2004
Arresting ... Catherine  Zeta-Jones joins the action as a well-dressed  cop.

Arresting ... Catherine Zeta-Jones joins the action as a well-dressed cop.

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Ocean's Twelve
Directed by Steven Soderbergh
Written by George Nolfi, based on characters created by George Clayton Johnson and Jack Golden Russell
Rated M
Cinemas everywhere

The second Ocean's Eleven - the remake of the 1960 original - was largely a movie about American know-how, as well as prime American beef. It assembled three of the most beautiful men in movies - if you count Andy Garcia in the same company as George Clooney and Brad Pitt - and set them competing for $160 million in cash, although the other prize was a sexual trophy, Danny Ocean's ex-wife Tess, played by Julia Roberts.

Her heart was sealed tight, like the vault of the Vegas casino run by Terry Benedict (Garcia). He had command of both, and Danny (Clooney) set out to take them from him, with a crew of the best burglars in the business. Rusty Ryan (Pitt) wasn't in the sexual game - he just wanted the dosh.

The crew's capability was incredibly seductive, the way they could take on roles and do things that we mortals could never manage. They were just like movie actors in that sense and the film functioned as a metaphor of the movie business.

There was a great deal of money to be made by men of talent and few rules, but it required discipline, planning and imagination. It was just like making a movie, and it was the same in 1960, when Lewis Milestone cast the original Brat Packers (Sinatra, Davis jnr, Martin, Lawford, Bishop et al).

Audiences then could probably sense the connection - these guys were making it in Vegas, as they had done in real life. It was just that they were stealing the money, rather than helping the casinos lift it from the wallets of the punters. In a bizarre way, it was giving audiences revenge for reality, and a glimpse of the high life they would never have. The remake functioned in much the same way, although without the Brat Pack associations with Vegas.

Ocean's Twelve gives up a lot of this meaning by relocating most of the story to Europe and letting everything go wrong. Instead of wowing us with their can-do, the larcenous crew find they can't do there what they could do at home - at least, not as smoothly. This makes the film funnier, but potentially less meaningful as metaphor. The characters become a bit less like superstars.

In fact, they're somewhat humbled in the first reel, when Benedict catches up with them. It's three years since the heist, and Rusty Ryan has lost most of his share running a hotel in Hollywood. Basher Tarr (Don Cheadle) is failing at the music business in London. Saul Bloom (Carl Reiner) is pretending to be a gentleman back east but Reuben Tishkoff (Elliott Gould) has turned his money into an even bigger fortune. Linus Caldwell (Matt Damon) is trying to run his own crew in Chicago. Yen the Chinese acrobat (Shaobo Qin) is having problems with a supermodel in Miami. Benedict gives them two weeks to return his money or start dying, so they regroup and fly to Amsterdam to find a big con. This doesn't make a whole lot of sense, but the new movie doesn't worry much about coherence. Europe offers cool locations and the action flits from one great city to another. It's all about beauty, not logic.

By the time the boys hit Rome - site of their ambitious plot to steal a fabulous European treasure - it's hard to tell who's doing what to whom, but it's enjoyably gorgeous, like a fashion show with a sense of humour. If Catherine Zeta-Jones can play a hot-shot Euro cop in a series of designer ensembles, who am I to carp about credibility?

The film's other pleasures include unexpected roles for Julia Roberts, Vincent Cassel, Bruce Willis and Robbie Coltrane. Soderbergh takes none of it very seriously, but he's not casual about constructing tight entertainment. If it's marginally less meaningful than the (second) original, it's still hip as can be.

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