Like Steven Soderbergh's first remake of the 1960 rat pack original, Ocean's Twelve purrs like a stretch limo awaiting high-priced clients. The film moves at the director's trademark breathtaking speed - quick, sexy shots on an international stage; fun, kicky original music by David Holmes; and character-driven gags. George Clooney and company had only to show up, be their million-dollar selves, learn a few lines and assure themselves of a good time and a reasonably effective film. Clooney joked at a recent press conference that he hadn't read the script before they shot it, which doesn't seem outside the realm of possibility. Soderbergh, the immaculate host, made sure that all the accommodations were taken care of.
What you get with this sequel is the same fun-loving, highly photogenic criminals from the first flick, with Catherine Zeta-Jones thrown into the mix as both foil and love interest. To their credit, the producers resisted the temptation to just fire up the ol' hit machine and run through another caper plot. Instead, the script attempts a tricky curveball: In the same spirit that the cast enjoys ripping on themselves and their celebrity status, Ocean's Twelve turns the super-crooks into lovable screwups. It makes for great entertainment. At least until the party gets out of hand.
It starts with the casino owner they ripped off in the first film, Terry Benedict (Andy Garcia), giving the Ocean's gang two weeks to come up with the money they stole, plus interest. They get together after having been scattered around the globe, and everybody's initial concern seems to be that the first heist has been referred to as Ocean's Eleven, after Clooney's character Danny Ocean. “I thought we had all agreed to call it the Benedict job,” whines an Ocean member named Virgil (Casey Affleck). It's only the first of many winks and jabs at Clooney's perceived monster star ego, and it hints early on that this film, to an even greater degree than the first, is really a massive in-joke turned outward.
They immediately set out to pull some robberies in order to come up with the cash to pay Benedict. What's funny here is that they've almost all spent most of their original share and need huge amounts of money, so stealing now becomes an annoying day job for them. There's a hail of complaints when they have to settle for a mere $2 million caper. Brad Pitt's character Rusty suggests they start their burglary spree in Amsterdam, where he surreptitiously intends to hook up with his old flame, Isabel (Zeta-Jones), an Interpol agent who likes to wear red leather. He's been avoiding her since he escaped out of her bathroom window years ago (chronicled in the opening scene) after learning she was on to his criminal activities. As soon as they arrive in Amsterdam, he recklessly starts following her around and watching her from a distance. From there, the plot picks up momentum: Suddenly there's a French mastermind thief named Night Fox (Vincent Cassel) bent on outburgling the Ocean's gang to prove he's better and a mysterious, unseen super-thief egging him on.
With a cast this huge, it's inevitable that some of the characters would fall into the one-dimensional orbits established in the first film. Virgil and Turk (Scott Caan) are the brothers who continually snipe at each other, Saul (Carl Reiner) and Reuben (Elliot Gould) take turns stealing scenes as the old guard crooks, contortionist Yen (Shaobo Qin) is along for the ride - literally, he gets shipped all over Europe in a piece of luggage - Frank (Bernie Mac) gets busted early, and Basher (Don Cheadle) doesn't really have a lot to do. Matt Damon's character Linus is given some more depth and screen time as he tries to take a greater responsibility in the group, and Zeta-Jones comes off as believably sweet but determined.
The film builds to a decent climax where everyone is in jail save for Linus, Basher and Turk, but the heist of a priceless Faberge egg still must be completed the next day before the two-week deadline is up. Here's where somebody should've taken away the film's car keys, because the plot inexplicably goes roaring down the highway and crashes into a fiery wreck against the fourth wall. Needing another member to pull off the heist, the three remaining robbers enlist Ocean's wife Tess, played by Julia Roberts, in order to impersonate ... wait for it ... Julia Roberts! A film that had been charmingly toying with the audience's suspension of disbelief suddenly commits an egregious betrayal. It's clear they thought they were being clever - producer Weintraub predicted in a press conference that Robert's portrayal of herself would be singled out by critics as the high point of the flick. Apparently while they were shooting, Roberts had been a few months pregnant, and they knew that by the time the movie was released, she would be showing. So they stick a pillow under her dress, and she proceeds to play someone that's not herself playing herself. The joke is then taken way too far. Tess runs into Bruce Willis, who of course thinks she is the famous actress. Nobody stops to ponder why her incredible resemblance to Roberts was never mentioned in the first film or that, hey, doesn't Danny Ocean kinda look like George Clooney? And now that you mention it, that Rusty guy is a dead ringer for Brad Pitt!
Despite this irking lapse of logic, it's easy to forgive and forget. Ocean's Twelve refuses to take itself seriously in any way, and, well, sometimes you can't hold a drunk responsible for his actions. By the film's end, you've given yourself to the momentum and the more or less satisfying conclusion. The final scene is a get-together, with all the principal cast members celebrating wildly. It's almost as if Soderbergh simply filmed the Ocean's Twelve wrap party and stuck it in at the end of the movie. And they couldn't have come up with a more appropriate denouement.