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    All-star cast ham it up for easy laughs and cash

    A guaranteed winner at the bank, `Ocean's Twelve' is a crafty caper but nothing to get excited about out

    By Manohla Dargis
    Friday, Dec 31, 2004,Page 16

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    At a certain point in the enjoyable, unabashedly trivial caper flick Ocean's Twelve, a trio of crooks played by Matt Damon, Don Cheadle and Scott Caan start running through the different ways they can get out of their immediate jam. Things have gone badly for these likable rogues and now most of their crew, including the smooth piece of work who gives the film its title, Danny Ocean -- played by the equally silky George Clooney -- have landed in the clink. The crooks are looking for a get-out-of-jail-free card, which, given the film's criminally underdone plot and smog of self-satisfaction, is something that the director Steven Soderbergh may have wanted to stash up his own sleeve.

    As anyone within spitting distance of a TV set or a newsstand knows, Ocean's Twelve is the high-profile sequel to Soderbergh's big box-office entertainment Ocean's Eleven. That first feature was based on a big-studio bore from 1960, in which the Rat Pack, led by King Rat Frank Sinatra, gamboled through a Las Vegas-based heist movie that had all the class and staying power of a rhinestone G-string. With their director Lewis Milestone strategically sidelined, the Rat Pack loafed through the movie during the day and performed at the Sands at night. "They say this is hard work, this acting," the biographer Nick Tosches quotes the Rat Packer Dean Martin as saying about the movie. "Work? Work my [obscenity]."

    Julia Roberts got roped in for director Steven Soderbergh's sequel to Ocean's Eleven. The script was adapted to accommodate her real-life pregnancy.
    From the film's lackadaisical performances and playfully lazy vibe, Clooney and the rest of the Ocean's Twelve gang know exactly where Dino was coming from. Once again, Clooney's Danny is the leader of the pack, Brad Pitt plays his second-in-command, Rusty Ryan, and Damon plays Linus, a puppy that desperately wants to be a dog but may not have sprouted the requisite fangs. Also on board for the return trip are Julia Roberts, Elliott Gould, Bernie Mac, Casey Affleck, Eddie Jemison, Shaobo Qin and a delightful Carl Reiner, joined by the new recruit Catherine Zeta-Jones as Isabel, a European super cop who favors curve-hugging skirts and the sort of dangerous high heels women wear only so they can kick them off in the bedroom.

    Film Notes: Ocean's Twelve
    Directed by: Steven Soderbergh

    Starring: George Clooney (Danny Ocean), Brad Pitt (Rusty Ryan), Matt Damon (Linus Caldwell), Catherine Zeta-Jones (Isabel Lahiri), Andy Garcia (Terry Benedict), Don Cheadle (Basher Tarr), Bernie Mac (Frank Catton), Julia Roberts (Tess Ocean), Casey Affleck (Virgil Malloy).

    Running time: 120 minutes

    Taiwan Release: Today
    Isabel's heels are just one of many self-conscious fantasy touches in this gleefully artificial construct. The tangled plot, which hinges on the reappearance of one of Danny's former marks (played by Andy Garcia, bringing a little George Sanders flair to the usual screen villainy), zigs and zags from the US to points across Europe, complete with time-and-space warping datelines that make it easy to forget where you are and why. Soderbergh doesn't like to repeat himself, and as the different datelines indicate he's far more interested in attending to the story's loopy digressions, silly jokes and unbridled nonsense than whether it all hangs together. Soderbergh agreed to make Ocean's Twelve, but just because he was making a sequel doesn't mean he was going to repeat himself, for better or worse.

    In great caper movies like Jean-Pierre Melville's Red Circle, the caper is the least of it; what matters are honor among thieves, the valor of men and the skill of both the characters and the director. Ocean's Twelve isn't in the timeless league of Melville's classic, in part because having done this kind of thing before Soderbergh clearly has had to work to stay engaged with the material. To that end he pushes narrative logic to the breaking point, gives his actors a very long leash and engages in dicey self-reflexive antics. The director's chief ally in this controlled chaos is George Nolfi, whose very funny screenplay contains hiccups of absurdist lunacy that alternately bring to mind Richard Lester (Help!), a favorite of Soderbergh, and the director's own Schizopolis.

    When Ocean's Twelve works, it's a blast. Clooney isn't on camera enough, but he's a reliable pleasure, as is Pitt, whose grace and ability to send up his own beauty suggests he would have flourished during the golden age of screwball. Ocean's Twelve may be slim pickings, but when a film contains a bit as sublime as Rusty putting the moves on a visibly startled Isabel while he's literally hotfooting it from the law it's the kind of movie moment that can tide you over for a week. Like the Abbott and Costello-style stratagems of Damon, Cheadle and Caan, Rusty making a play for a woman while on the run works beautifully because it's at once goofy and deftly orchestrated, an interlude of top-notch professionalism disguised as a throwaway.

    Hollywood loves an all-star parade, whether it's Grand Hotel or one of those 1970's disaster movies stuffed to the gills with celebrities pretending to be mere mortals. In the best of these it's a delight to hitch a ride with the stars because you feel like an invited guest. But when the inside jokes take over, as they do toward the end of Ocean's Twelve, it's easy to feel like a gate crasher, your grubby hoi polloi nose pressed to the glass. It's amusing when Danny worries aloud that he looks 50, a confession that speaks to Clooney's salt-and-pepper hair. When Danny sips Champagne in a mansion on Lake Como, though, the same resort where Clooney owns a spread, it's as hilarious as Marie Antoinette's quip about cake.

    With Ocean's Twelve Soderbergh seemed primarily focused on making the different whirring parts of a classic caper story hum and purr in perfect harmony. The result was a studio vehicle that transcended formula because the director's fingerprints adorned its gleaming surfaces. Perhaps because he didn't feel challenged enough this time, Soderbergh hasn't bothered to give the sequel much of a personal touch. To flog the automotive metaphor -- and given the film's engineering and luxury appointments, the metaphor seems apt -- Ocean's Twelve finally recalls nothing so much as one of those Jaguars that looks like an exotic sports car but is really a gussied-up Ford. There are of course worse things than making a Ford but only if you're in the same business as Henry, not John.
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