Despite a tepid response by critics to the all-star film Ocean's Twelve, Catherine Zeta-Jones has won rave reviews for her performance. Here her co-stars join the chorus of praise for Wales's own queen of the big screen
AS the new girl on the block, in the oh-so-cliquey boys' club of Ocean's Twelve, Catherine Zeta-Jones could have easily fallen flat on her face.
In fact, she practically walks away with the movie.
The eagerly-awaited sequel to 2001's smash-hit feelgood blockbuster Ocean's Eleven - itself a remake of the 1960 Rat Pack caper - has already received mixed reviews in America, its detractors dubbing it overly smug, self-indulgent and with a plot that's practically impenetrable.
But there's not been one bad word against 35-year-old Zeta-Jones, who joins the tight-knit troupe as the smart and ultra-sophisticated Europol agent Isabel Lahiri, playing the heist-masters at their own game.
And maybe it's no wonder, if rumours are to be believed, that Julia Roberts threw a hissy fit over the Oscar-winning Swansea siren getting a more prominently-placed name credit, both on screen and in the posters.
But then again, that's not too surprising, with Roberts reduced to a ludicrous supporting role which involves her impersonating an actress called... Julia Roberts (don't ask; it's a plot machination that's leaving audiences scratching their heads in bewilderment).
Zeta-Jones, meanwhile, holds the screen with her own brand of shimmering, sultry cool, as her sharp-suited character sets about cracking the latest, European-based scam created by the gang of wisecracking thieves - including her ex-lover Rusty Ryan (played by Brad Pitt).
Three years after their audacious Las Vegas heist, Danny Ocean's (George Clooney) 11-strong crew are finally tracked down by fuming casino boss Terry Benedict (Andy Garcia), who gives them two weeks to pay him back with interest.
So they whizz to Europe to pull off more heists to raise the cash - only this time they have to contend with the double whammy of beauty-with-brains Ms Lahiri (Zeta-Jones) and French rich-brat master-thief The Night Fox (Vincent Cassell).
We first meet Zeta-Jones's character Isabel Lahiri holding court at an Interpol conference, delivering a speech to a roomful of serious-minded delegates.
She's power-suited, confident, no-nonsense, a welcome antidote to some of the actress's more recent, purely decorative roles, as in Terminal.
She looks gorgeous, of course, - yet it's a subtly deglamorised Zeta-Jones as Lahiri, in her no-nonsense grey and black designer suits, a shorter, straighter, more practical hairstyle, and minimal make-up; a world away from the va-va-voom man-eating sexuality of Chicago's Vilma Kelly or The Mask of Zorro's Elena.
"Isabel is a very accomplished Europol agent with a history of being around thieves," says Zeta-Jones. "She has a history with Rusty Ryan, Brad Pitt's character, where she is kind of a woman scorned, which actually accelerates and emphasises her desire to put these people away where they belong."
Not surprisingly, a lot of the headlines have centred on the love scenes between Pitt and Zeta-Jones and they're more than convincing as a glamorous, slightly hedonistic couple of opposites attracted.
"The first time they see each other is when he's being chased by the cops," says Zeta-Jones. "It's an immediate attraction and it's very hard not (to be attracted) with Brad Pitt playing the role!
"It was a lot of fun to work on, and Brad's so easy. I'm sure that I'm hated around the world being able to kiss Brad around Rome."
The newly-single Mr Pitt, it seems, was similarly impressed.
"Oh, we were so excited to get Catherine," says the heart-throb star of Troy and the upcoming Mr and Mrs Smith. "First of all, because she brings great elegance, and because a lot of the film was going to be focused on her, she'd have to carry it - so we really needed to have someone who garnered that kind of weight.
"And the great thing about Catherine - besides her great beauty and elegance - is she can drink anyone under the table!"
Ocean's Twelve director Steven Soderbergh had previously worked with Zeta-Jones on his critically-acclaimed 2000 drugs drama Traffic, which garnered the Welsh star a Golden Globe Best Actress nomination.
"Isabel was a crucial piece of casting in Ocean's Twelve, because the sequel centres in part around this character who doesn't appear in the first film so we had to have somebody who could really hold the screen," says Soderbergh.
"I knew that the role played to everything Catherine does well. She's a great badass. I had a blast with Catherine on this film, especially being able to use her in a way that accentuates her glamour and beauty - because in Traffic she was six months pregnant, and I admired her bravery in putting herself out there. It's really fun to watch her in Ocean's Twelve as she puts the guys in hot water, because Isabel is so smart and sexy and so good at her job."
There's little question that Zeta-Jones made a lasting impression on all her fellow workers on her latest big-screen outing and not just with her co-stars.
Veteran producer Jerry Weintraub for one clearly had the wind taken out of his sails.
"We were all out on set doing a warehouse scene in Chicago and Catherine came in," says Weintraub. "I remember it like it was an hour ago. She looked to die for.
"She was absolutely gorgeous, out of this world gorgeous.
"She had high heels on and tight jeans. Anyway, all the guys were around Catherine within 60 seconds, everybody. And she was the centre of attention, as she should be. She fitted right in with the group, and she has nothing to ever be worried about.
"You know, she's not only beautiful outside, she's beautiful inside."
Another notable old-timer, 66-year-old Elliott Gould, who reprises the role of cynical businessman Reuben Tishkoff, has his own typically cheeky views about the new girl in the gang.
"Catherine, Mrs Douglas, well, she's just a great broad from Wales who's a down-to-earth, blue collar worker who was a chorus girl, just like I was a chorus boy," he smiles.
"Her character is a high-bred Nuke, an international police person; she knows what we do, she knows what we've done, and she knows that we're a cast of characters and she is really smart."
Despite the plethora of compliments, Zeta-Jones's introduction to the Ocean's Twelve experience was inevitably a tad nerve-racking, and she compares her first day on the Ocean's Twelve set to the first day at school.
"I always want to re-shoot the first day or week on a film because I'm so terrified, but the first time we were all together, there's a certain power with all these guys together," she says.
"It was just easy and simple and they welcomed me with open arms. You have to have a good laugh when you hang out with these guys."
Perhaps the last word should go to Mr Ocean himself, George Clooney, who first got to know Zeta-Jones in their successful co-starring vehicle of 2003, the Coen brothers' screwball comedy Intolerable Cruelty.
In that film, he may have starred opposite her (and occasionally got up close and personal), but he ultimately never got the girl. Now, it's his mate Brad Pitt who gets her in Ocean's Twelve.
Surely 'Gorgeous' George must be finding this all a bit frustrating?
"It's very upsetting but it's OK," says Clooney through gritted teeth. "I'll get her back. I'm doing a love scene with Michael Douglas next, to even the score. That'll teach her."