Archive for Thursday, December 9, 2004

Ocean’s Twelve’ doesn’t measure up

December 9, 2004

The comedy/heist caper "Ocean's Twelve" comes across like the European remake of "Ocean's Eleven."

Set across the pond, the film is slower, artsier and has fancier cinematography. Yet, ultimately, it's more incoherent and less satisfying.

Not exactly a surprise. The modern "Ocean's Eleven" was never structured to have a sequel. But after earning $183 million at the domestic box office, it became inescapable.

On the positive side, director Steven Soderbergh and his large ensemble of A-listers return in this installment. The bad news is most of them aren't given much to do.

In my review of the 2001 romp I praised the fact that "each of the 11 people brought into this risky venture are there for a reason. Their specialized skills are judiciously revealed as the movie progresses. (In the original film, little rationale is given for why that many men are needed to pull off the crime. It's almost as if Frank Sinatra just kept adding friends until that ballooned the amount into a figure he liked enough for the film's title.)"

That criticism of the 1960 version applies in this latest case. Screenwriter George Nolfi ("Timeline") can't find a way to incorporate characters into the story whose expertise includes contortionism and robotic gadgetry. Often he just shows them waiting around while the main players - George Clooney, Brad Pitt and Matt Damon - spearhead the tale.

Since this project is almost more of a con game than a heist flick, it's best not to reveal too much of the plot. Suffice to say casino mogul Terry Benedict (Andy Garcia) catches up with Danny Ocean (Clooney) and his crew, and he threatens to kill them unless they pay him back with interest. So the gang sets off for France, the Netherlands and Italy for some big-time thievery.

It becomes complicated when the team - which includes Don Cheadle, Bernie Mac, Elliott Gould and Carl Reiner - is pursued by a Europol detective (Catherine Zeta-Jones, whose relationship with Pitt mirrors the Pierce Brosnan/Rene Russo dynamic in "The Thomas Crown Affair"). There's also a suave rival known as Night Fox (Vincent Cassel) who challenges Ocean to determine who is the world's greatest master thief.

While a variety of objects are stolen and cons get conned, the movie mainly gets kicks from having its celebrity cast poke fun at itself. There are ongoing jokes about Clooney's advanced age (he's really only 43). Damon complains about wanting "to play a more central role this time" - which could refer to his character's part in the scam or the actor's billing in the picture.

Numerous celebs contribute cameos. The funniest involves Topher Grace ("That '70s Show") playing a burned-out version of himself, who admits, "I quit the TV show. And I totally phoned in that Dennis Quaid movie."

The most bizarre gag is that Ocean's wife Tess (Julia Roberts) is dragged into the actual heist because she bears an uncanny resemblance to a recently pregnant screen idol.

All of this is pretty amusing, even though it never furthers the plot.

Soderbergh (an Oscar winner for "Traffic") is much flashier this time around. He employs every visual gimmick out there: hand-held shots, oddball angles, multiple flashbacks, freeze frames.

All these tricks, cameos and in-jokes momentarily distract the viewer, but one is left with nagging questions once the theater lights go up.

How does the person who tipped off Benedict know of the crimes and where the gang members are hiding?

What purpose does the final con serve if the item has already been stolen?

Who is the twelfth person of the title?

Why is Pitt eating in every scene?

Still, there's no pressing need to address these concerns with an "Ocean's Thirteen."

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