Director : Steven Soderbergh
Screenplay : George Nolfi (based on character created by George Clayton Johnson & Jack Golden Russell)
MPAA Rating : PG-13
Year of Release : 2004
Stars : George Clooney (Danny Ocean), Brad Pitt (Rusty Ryan), Catherine Zeta-Jones (Isabel Lahiri), Julia Roberts (Tess Ocean), Matt Damon (Linus Caldwell), Bernie Mac (Frank Catton), Don Cheadle (Basher Tarr), Andy Garcia (Terry Benedict), Casey Affleck (Virgil Malloy), Scott Caan (Turk Malloy), Shaobo Qin (Yen), Carl Reiner (Saul Bloom), Elliott Gould (Reuben Tishkoff), Vincent Cassel (François Toulour)
Ocean’s Twelve is a disappointment, a slight and forgettable sequel to 2001’s light, breezy remake of the Rat Pack heist comedy Ocean’s Eleven. If you read all the press around the film, you’ll know that the all-star cast had an absolutely fantastic time making the film, which may have been part of the problem. It seems like they were having so much fun that they didn’t put much effort into the film itself, which is not ironically part of the same reason why the original Ocean’s Eleven (1960) with Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Sammy Davis, Jr. was a stinker.
Once again helming is Steven Soderbergh, who deploys many of his favorite retro filmmaking techniques (wipes, zooms, freeze frames, etc.) to give the film some visual dash. The fact that most of it takes place in Europe this time around adds to the old-school charm, giving it the feel of one of those late-’60s European crime thrillers that were often more about style than story. In the case of Ocean’s Twelve, despite Soderbergh’s visual acumen, it’s more about stars than story or style, something the film attempts to ape self-consciously by having Julia Roberts’ character pretending to be … Julia Roberts! How meta.
The story kicks off with Terry Benedict (Andy Garcia), the grouchy billionaire casino impresario who was ripped off for $160 million in the first film, tracking down each of the 11 members of the heist gang and informing them that they have two weeks to repay all the money with interest or they’re dead. In the process, we are re-introduced to all of the main characters and are allowed to see what they’ve been doing with the money they stole in the first film. Rusty Ryan (Brad Pitt) is running a fancy hotel after bailing on a romance with Isabel Lahiri (Catherine Zeta-Jones), a European crime investigator who started getting too close to his activities. Danny Ocean (George Clooney) and his wife Tess (Julia Roberts), who was the real booty to be stolen in the first film, have set up a happy home in Connecticut, although he can’t help his thief’s eye from casing every bank and jewelry store he walks into. All the others, played by Matt Damon, Don Cheadle, Bernie Mac, Casey Affleck, Scott Caan, and Carl Reiner, are also in various states of contentment before being roused by Benedict, although Elliott Gould’s hammy Reuben Tishkoff is high-strung as ever, getting caught by Benedict while having his palm read.
Benedict’s return forces “Ocean’s Eleven” to reunite and come up with a plan to steal the money to repay the money they already stole, which leads them to Europe since they’re “too hot” after the casino heist to work stateside. Once abroad, though, they get entangled with a competing master thief, a Frenchman named François Toulour (Vincent Cassel), also known as the Nightfox, who is so insulted at the idea that Danny Ocean might be considered a better thief that he challenges Ocean to a thievery duel.
If the story in Ocean’s Eleven was wafer thin, the one concocted here by screenwriter George Nolfi (Timeline) barely qualifies as paper thin. He gives us some requisite twists and turns, betrayals and surprises, but the narrative clunks along so badly that the surprises lose their kick. Ocean’s Eleven was as good as it was because it was light and quick, moving easily from scene to scene as it built up the details of its elaborate heist. Perhaps in a move to distance Ocean’s Twelve from its predecessor (and all other heist movies, for that matter), Nolfi studiously avoids any one big heist and instead focuses on a couple of smaller ones, all of which are amusingly marked failures (including the one in which Julia Roberts’ Tess attempts to pass herself off as the real actress, even fooling Bruce Willis in a flat cameo). To mix things up, he also jumbles the chronology, sending us back in time for flashbacks that are supposed to elicit “ahhs” in how they explain what we missed, but are more like someone telling a joke and then saying, “Oh, wait, I forgot to tell you earlier that …”
This is not to say that Ocean’s Twelve is all bad. Rather, it is has some humorous tidbits, and some of the friction among the thieves has an enjoyably playful banter. At the same time, though, it’s hard to understand some of the choices, such as Matt Damon playing his character as if he has lost about half his brain cells between Eleven and Twelve. The romance between Brad Pitt’s stylish thief and Catherine Zeta-Jones’ stylish investigator fizzles more than it flares, which is a significant problem since Clooney and Roberts have very little to do together this time around. In a sense, that’s the problem with the whole film: It’s designed to constantly evoke sparks and tension, particularly in its dry comedy, but nothing ever never quite catches. It’s never as fun to watch as you keep hoping, but at least everyone had a good time making it.
Copyright ©2004 James Kendrick
All images copyright ©2004 Warner Bros.