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December 25, 2004
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    Issue 51: December 24 to 30, 2004  
   Culture Shock
Film Review - All-star charming hit
A n all-star cast is more of a curse than a blessing, as imbalance and on set goodwill compromise whatever good story there might have been to tell (remember Sleepers, Copland, or the recent I Like Huckabees).

There are precious few directors who can negotiate the inherent conflicts in an all-star productions, with Woody Allen or Robert Altman immediately springing to mind. We can now add an esteemed third that manages the stellar traffic with effortless cool. Steven Soderbergh already boasts an exception to the "misery-of-the-all-star-project" rule with 2002's Ocean's 11, that mightily stylish and relaxed heist movie. Now with Ocean's 12, he makes the all-star rules himself: don't shoot for tortured dramatic highs, just allow the stars to give you their charming best and both they and the audience will be most enthusiastically grateful.

Indeed, the screen radiates the fun everybody involved had making the film and invites the audience to have just as good a time this side of the screen. Which it gladly does, as it sees an A-list assortment of favourite screen faces occupy characters that allow for a full charm discharge. George Clooney is again dashing super thief Danny Ocean, Julia Roberts is his equally dashing wife Tess; both are now enjoying the comfort of a Connecticut mansion. Brad Pitt is again the able second in command Rusty Ryan, now gone straight and running a Hollywood hotel to the stars. Don Cheadle is again cockney weapons expert Basher Tarr, now rarely seen outside a hazy London recording studio. Matt Damon is again eager pickpocket Linus Caldwell, now pining for a more central role, and so on.

They are given a good reason to reunite as Las Vegas casino boss Terry Benedict (Andy Garcia) pays a personal visit to each of the original 11 and makes it frighteningly clear he wants the money they stole from him in the previous film back. The thieves forcefully brought back from retirement have two weeks to come up with a total of $197 million. That means they have to go to the combined wonderland of unstolen riches and glorious filming locations in Europe. Unlike in the original film, however, everything that can go wrong actually does. The gang's heist plans are consistently compromised by the eager Europol detective Isabel Lahiri (Catherine Zeta-Jones) who happens to be nursing a romantic grudge to Rusty Ryan, and a legendary thief The Night Fox (Vincent Cassel) who has a problem with Danny Ocean's high profile reputation.

The film turns big-budget filmmaking into jazz. That is, it allows itself a catalogue of over-the-top eccentricities, in-jokes, cameos and plots twist and does so with such supreme confidence and elegance that it never falls into awkward humourless dissonance. That is perfectly illustrated by the use of cameos here. More often than not they are a superfluous, if pleasant, eye candy that contributes nothing to the plot. Here however, they do, and there is a one, which is so daring and thoughtful that the mere idea of attempting it puts the film in a league of its own.

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