Ocean's Twelve (United States, 2004)
Pleasantness and affability reign supreme in Steven Soderbergh's sequel to the remake of Ocean's Eleven. This time around, even the bad guys don't seem so bad. Rumor has it that the atmosphere on the set of Ocean's Twelve was so easy-going that it was more like summer camp than a movie shoot, and much of the sense of fun comes across on screen. Everyone who survived the first film is back for the second, including the entire complement of "Ocean's Eleven." There are two high-profile newcomers. Catherine Zeta-Jones plays Europol agent Isabel Lahiri, an ex-flame of Rusty Ryan (Brad Pitt), who is the confidante of Danny Ocean (George Clooney). The there's Vincent Cassel, who portrays "The Night Fox," a rival thief who believes that Ocean's reputation is inflated - a fact he intends to prove by challenging his rival to a thieving competition.
When the film opens, Danny is retired and living in marital bliss with his wife, Tess (Julia Roberts). It's their "second third" anniversary, and Danny's life is about to go to hell. Someone has tipped off Casino honcho Terry Benedict (Andy Garcia) about the location of Danny and his ten friends, and they all receive an ultimatum: pay back $160 million (plus interest) in two weeks or face the consequences. So it's off to Europe for Ocean's Eleven (they're too notorious to be able to pull any heists stateside), where they have to steal enough money in 12 days to be able to fulfill their obligation to Benedict.
Despite being overlong (does any caper comedy need to eat up more than two hours?), Ocean's Twelve is enjoyable, and will likely appeal to anyone who appreciated the 2001 film. Not only are the actors the same, but the men behind the scenes, including Soderbergh, producer Jerry Weintraub, and composer David Holmes, have returned for another round. The screenplay, by George Nolfi, starts out a little slow, but, by the end of the first hour, it has hit its stride with the movie building momentum. The complicated details of the final heist are entertaining to unravel, and there's also a wonderfully wry bit of fourth wall-breaking fun that Soderbergh has at Julia Roberts' expense. Some might consider this to be too cute, but, from my perspective, it's ballsy.
With a cast of this size, it's expected that some of the performers will be featured far more than others. This time around, Bernie Mac and Carl Reiner have the least screen time. The latter spends most of the time out of the game while the former cools his heels in prison for two-thirds of the film. While there's plenty of opportunity for Roberts, Clooney, and Matt Damon to say lines and interact, the real "star" (if there can be said to be one) is Brad Pitt. There's a fair amount of smoldering chemistry between Rusty and Isabel, which is as much due to Zeta-Jones as to Pitt. Despite being new to this series, Isabel has the fullest "character moments" of any of the baker's dozen.
Although it functions adequately as a heist movie, Ocean's Twelve fairs better when seen through the lens of a comedy. The screenplay offers a lot of breezy dialogue, and, while it never gets overly silly, it's clear that we're not meant to take any of the proceedings seriously. (The business with Julia Roberts makes that abundantly clear.) There is a "surprise" cameo at the end, although astute viewers can figure out long before the moment of the "big reveal" whom Soderbergh's veteran player is (I'm not talking about Bruce Willis). And, as must always be the case with any movie involving planned criminal activities, there are plenty of twists, including the expected final one.
If there's a difference between Ocean's Eleven and Ocean's Twelve, it's the involvement of Mr. Murphy. In the first film, not all that much went wrong. This time around, however, Murphy's Law strikes with a vengeance. Danny and his friends get to learn first hand the truth in the saying, "The best laid plans of mice and men..." In the end, however, it will come as no big surprise to learn that everything isn't as straightforward as it initially appears.
Soderbergh peppers the print with occasional directorial flourishes (freeze-frames, the use of colored filters, etc.), but, for the most part, he presents the film "straight." And, on those occasions when he shows off, it's neither prolonged nor extreme enough to become distracting. One could make an argument that the filmmaker isn't so much directing his actors as he is shepherding them through the movie-making process. There's a sense that at least some of the dialogue was improvised. The final result speaks well for the process, whatever it actually was. Ocean's Twelve represents a lively way to spend a December evening.
Ocean's Twelve (United States, 2004)
Cast: George Clooney, Bernie Mac, Eddie Jemison, Shaobo Qin, Carl Reiner, Elliott Gould, Andy Garcia, Matt Damon, Don Cheadle, Scott Caan, Casey Affleck, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Julia Roberts, Brad Pitt, Vincent Cassel
Screenplay: George Nolfi
Cinematography: Steven Soderbergh
Music: David Holmes
U.S. Distributor: Warner Brothers