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Rats, the pack has all the fun

The celebrities return to channel Sinatra-ish hipness in 'Ocean's Twelve.' They're happy. What about us?

December 10, 2004|Kenneth Turan | Times Staff Writer

Despite what the ads for "Ocean's Twelve" try to tell you, twelve is not the new eleven. It's not even the old eleven. It's more like a zero.

This attempt by director Steven Soderbergh and an all-star cast to duplicate the deserved success of their suave "Ocean's Eleven" isn't good and isn't bad, it just isn't. A lethargic would-be entertainment as well as a dispiriting vanity project, it is such a misfire that it makes it hard to remember what was special about its predecessor.

That film (itself a remake of the tedious 1960 original starring Frank Sinatra and his pals) had several things going for it that the new version feels it need not bother with. Like a clever, involving plot about a super-intricate scheme to rob Las Vegas blind.

"Twelve," by contrast, is a kind of lifeless Frankenstein cobbled together from a script by George Nolfi for a different project and what Soderbergh characterizes as "an enormous number of ideas" he and star George Clooney had after "Eleven" became a success. Those ideas, to judge by the evidence at hand, do not seem to have been uniformly good ones.

"Twelve's" story picks up three years after the Vegas heist, with Danny Ocean (Clooney) and his gang scattered throughout the known world, spending their money and trying to adjust to civilian life.

But no matter where they are, from Provo, Utah, to East Orange, N.J., the man they robbed, casino owner Terry Benedict (Andy Garcia), manages to track them down. He wants his money back, all $160 million of it plus interest, and he gives the gang exactly two weeks to scrape it together.

Given that even more crime is the only solution to this problem, it's sad that none of the criminal set pieces Ocean and his team (including Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Don Cheadle, Bernie Mac, Julia Roberts, Carl Reiner and Elliott Gould) take a flier on are as involving as they should be. The criminal thrill is gone, and not even the appearance of a European mastermind called the Night Fox (French star Vincent Cassel) can bring it back.

Also gone is one of the key elements of "Eleven," the notion that each member of Ocean's team has a specific and essential skill that we see in operation. To re-create that elaborate a scenario for a sequel must have seemed like too much trouble, so what we're left with is a bunch of guys hanging around being full of themselves for no apparent reason.

One result, not surprisingly, is that the film's best performance comes from Catherine Zeta-Jones, new to these proceedings, who plays Isabel Lahiri, a sometime girlfriend of Pitt's Rusty Ryan and a full-time detective employed by Europol's anti-theft task force. It's painful to imagine how much duller these proceedings would be without her energetic participation.

For though it has occasional amusing moments, it's a measure of how lackadaisical "Ocean's Twelve" mostly is that even director Soderbergh seems bored from time to time. So, working as his own cinematographer, he throws in periodic bursts of lively camera work and editing designed to ensure, it's tempting to hypothesize, that he stayed awake.

"Twelve's" most troubling flaw is that its cast members seem to have read and believed their own admiring publicity. This pleased-with-itself film plays at its worst like a feast of self-congratulation, with the actors feeling sure that their wonderful presences alone will compel the worship of a grateful public.

It's difficult to pick up an entertainment magazine these days without reading a cover story about how much fun, fun, fun this cast had hanging out with each other in Europe during the shoot. "It's hard to fake the kind of ease and camaraderie that these characters have with each other," Soderbergh has said, "and the good news is, this cast doesn't have to fake it."

The bad news, however, is that "Ocean's Twelve" is incontestably a film for which the actors, having had all the fun the audience should be having, wants us to be grateful for the crumbs they've grandly left behind. Yes, they are charming, but even charm goes only so far.


'Ocean's Twelve'

MPAA rating: PG-13 for language

George Clooney...Danny Ocean

Brad Pitt...Rusty Ryan

Matt Damon...Linus Caldwell

Catherine Zeta-Jones...Isabel Lahiri

Julia Roberts...Tess Ocean

A Jerry Weintraub/Section Eight production, in association with Village Roadshow Pictures. Released by Warner Bros. Director Steven Soderbergh. Producer Jerry Weintraub. Executive producers John Hardy, Susan Ekins, Bruce Berman. Screenplay George Nolfi. Editor Stephen Mirrione. Costumes Milena Canonero. Music David Holmes. Production design Philip Messina. Art direction Tony Fanning and Greg Jacobs. Set decorator Kristen Toscano Messina. Running time: 2 hours, 5 minutes.

In general release.

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