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'Ocean's Twelve' flaunts celebrity for cash

In the early days of the Internet, I once received an e-mail from a friend that said: How to keep an idiot entertained -- click on this button. So I did and nothing happened. Not the first time, or the second, or the -- OK, for my dignity's sake, let's just say "many" times after that. Nothing ever happened, until I had the sneaking suspicion that the idiot being entertained was me.

That day, the joke was on me, but last weekend, as I sat through "Ocean's Twelve," I had the same revelation, only this time -- chalk it up to being older, wiser and more cynical -- it didn't take quite as long to catch on.

Even the tagline is fishy -- "Twelve is the new Eleven," it says, which is so slickly illogical it almost seems smart. The same can be said for this glossy, superficial movie. It's an indulgent exercise in celebrity that will leave you thinking the big-name talent is playing the year's grandest practical joke, and it is all on you.

They showed up. They strutted. They flashed their pearly smiles. They gave you nothing. And you paid to watch them. (They knew you would.)

This sequel to "Ocean's Eleven" has the same all-star cast, which you already know, even if you haven't seen it. The relentless, inescapable marketing campaign has given that away, but even it reflects a mastery of the kind of Hollywood over-hype "Ocean's Twelve" is selling.

Only a handful are truly big -- George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon and Julia Roberts. If Catherine Zeta-Jones continues blazing through movies, you might put her ahead of Roberts, even though, as a gossipy aside, Roberts reportedly fought to keep her own name above Zeta-Jones' on the marketing. The joke isn't that Roberts has the ego to command top billing -- considering her part is smaller and less significant of the two females and considering that the shockingly glamorous Zeta-Jones makes Roberts looks like a faded housewife. The joke is that Roberts isn't embarrassed to have her name on "Ocean's Twelve" -- not one little bit. Yes, folks, that's Hollywood for you. Even in the realm of the stupid, a celebrity will fight to be the queen.

Following the plot is another tug-of-war -- between boredom and all-out stupor. The story is so incoherent and the pieces come together so loosely that watching means accepting that you don't really know what's going on.

"Twelve" picks up three years after "Eleven." The villain, Terry Benedict (Andy Garcia), returns, this time as a sympathetic character, I thought. He is tracking down the thieves who robbed his casino of $160 million, and he wants his money back. After about 20 minutes, I wanted to shout at the screen, "Good luck, Terry, I know how you feel!" -- and yet in the pit of my stomach I knew both of us were in for the long haul.

Terry offers the guys a way out -- oh, he would have to, now wouldn't he! -- and gives them two weeks to return his cash. The crew reassembles to start pulling small-time jobs in Amsterdam -- hence to replace the money they've spent -- and yet another, elusive French thief mysteriously knows what they're up to and keeps beating them to their booty.

It's an ego trip for the French guy, what with his doubts that he may never be as good as these flashy Americans, even if he can accomplish, as one single, solitary crook, what it takes 11 American crooks to pull off. But the truth is -- he can't. In a movie that is solely about the commercial value of celebrity, Vincent Cassel can back flip all the way to the French Riviera if he wants to, but nobody is paying to see that.

Complicating matters is a dazzling police woman (Zeta-Jones), who used to date one of the thieves (Brad Pitt) and is hot on everyone's trail. Unexplainably, unfathomably, she still has a thing for her old beau. If she only waited for "Ocean's Thirteen," I'm sure she would meet her equal or perhaps Michael Douglas. She seems completely out of Pitt's league.

Once things start falling apart for Danny and his boys, "Ocean's Twelve" takes a new twist what with the movie star cameos and thieves impersonating stars who are themselves. That was the cheesiest part of all -- actors allowing their celebrity to be exploited because the writers couldn't figure out how to end this thing. Nobody should ever take them seriously again.

The mind-blowing dialogue tends to sound like this: Rusty can go in with the mega-mazerati, and then Linus will disable the laser alarms with an infra-red beamer taser, while Yan gets a lock on the isofrantic XB9.

Give "Ocean's Twelve" the award for most forgettable film of the year, and let's hope "Ocean's Thirteen" never comes back to haunt us.

"Ocean's Twelve" is rated PG-13 for language. Running time: 2 hours. It is playing at Carmike Cinemas in Lakeshore Mall, Sebring; 471-1179.

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