Rarely do sequels match the original. "Ocean's Twelve" is no exception in comparison to the 2001 version, "Ocean's Eleven." On the other hand, it's fun, flashy and far better than most caper films, including the original that starred Frank Sinatra and his Rat Pack friends back in 1960.
Certainly the problem with the newest "Ocean" has nothing to do with the cast. All of the stars - and there are a lot of them - are back, along with Catherine Zeta-Jones as an additional bonus.
The difference is this current edition relies too much on style and not enough on substance (read plot). Three years ago Danny Ocean (George Clooney) and his gang stung Vegas casino owner Terry Benedict (Andy Garcia) for a cool $163 million. Now, in 2004, director Steven Soderbergh cleverly and comically introduces us to the characters as Benedict comes calling to tell each of them to pay up or check out.
To a group of retired thieves the solution is obvious: They need to re-enter the work force, find something to steal and retire their debt. Only it isn't so simple, at least to us, as the master plan evolves into a couple of confusing burglaries that then lead to a competition with renowned international thief The Night Fox (Vincent Cassel). The prize is a priceless Faberge egg and the race is on to see who can steal it first. If the Night Fox loses, he will pay off Benedict. If he wins, Ocean and friends will lose more than bragging rights.
Predictably, there is the standard serving of incomprehensible high tech planning. In addition though, there is an extra-large heaping of hip repartee among the gang, much of it played out in what seems more like sketches than scenes. The result is some clever quick hitting lines impeccably delivered by the likes of Bernie Mac, Don Cheadle, Matt Damon, Elliott Gould, Brad Pitt, Carl Reiner, Julia Roberts and others, along with several cameos, including an extended appearance by Bruce Willis.
The standouts though are Clooney, Damon and Pitt. Clooney is the consummate con man, a disarming blend of low-key, glib sincerity. "Do I look 50 to you," he asks one of the guys, "Well, yeah" comes the answer, "but only from the neck up." Meanwhile, Pitt (as Rusty Ryan) is perfect as a street smart, gum chewing young buck who falls for a Europol detective (Zeta-Jones). Still Damon (as Linus Caldwell) nearly steals the show as a wonderfully slow-witted plodder, anxious to play a "central role." His status is summarized when he asks the group if he's "the only one who feels bad about stealing from a handicapped guy." "Yeah," they unanimously reply.
The topper to all this is designed to be a play on our celebrity conscious culture. Mrs. Danny Ocean (Julia Roberts as Tess Ocean) is called into service at a critical point in the caper to impersonate a famous movie star, Julia Roberts. It works, up to a point, but then it runs too long, begins to seem oddly self-indulgent and we wonder if it isn't showing us more of the real them, especially Roberts and Willis, than we want to see. It's a reminder of how tricky our "relationship" is with famous people and that keeping the separation between them and the characters they play is often better, for them and for us.