Steven Soderbergh's so-breezy-it-could-blow-away caper "Ocean's Twelve" is not so much a movie as a riff on a movie, a game played by beautiful people in exotic locations who all...
Steven Soderbergh’s so-breezy-it-could-blow-away caper “Ocean’s Twelve” is not so much a movie as a riff on a movie, a game played by beautiful people in exotic locations who all seem to be having a fabulous time. And that giddy pleasure is infectious: You can’t help but have fun watching it, even as you recognize that it’s not as well-crafted as Soderbergh’s 2001 original “Ocean’s Eleven” (itself loosely based on the 1960 Rat Pack crime comedy), particularly in its screenplay.
“Twelve” is all about playfulness and movie-star glamour and playing with movie-star glamour, in a Julia Roberts subplot that’s a hoot and those willing to join this gang of thieves will likely have as swell a time as they are.
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When last we saw these stylish con men, led by that handsome devil George Clooney (whose white shirts here are as dazzlingly bright as fresh snow), they were coolly walking away from a Las Vegas heist of $160 million, split 11 ways. They’ve gone their separate ways, but now they’re brought together again: Casino owner Terry Benedict (ever-smooth Andy Garcia) has tracked each of them down and wants his money back, with interest. Now.
Off the gang goes to Europe, ostensibly because they’re too recognizable in the U.S., but really so that Soderbergh can have fun with cobblestone streets and lakeside Italian villas. High-profile robbery ensues of a priceless Fabergé egg, and of most of the scenes, by Soderbergh’s gifted ensemble.
The cluttered screenplay is credited to George Nolfi (who wrote the dreadful “Timeline”), but much of the movie feels improvised, with laid-back actors tossing off one-liners that work far more often than they don’t.
“Twelve” contains a couple of romances (between Clooney and Roberts, and Brad Pitt and a purry Catherine Zeta-Jones), lots of nifty Bond-style gadgets, elegant handheld camerawork (shot by Soderbergh himself, under his cinematographer pseudonym Peter Andrews) and a picturesque tour of several European capital cities, but really it’s about the pleasures of hanging out with the gang both the characters and the actors. (Though, sadly, a few of them get short shrift Bernie Mac, in particular, is barely in the movie; perhaps he was busy shooting something else.)
Listen to them as they gather at the beginning of the film, griping about the group’s moniker. (Who agreed to be called Ocean’s Eleven? Aren’t they a collaborative team? Wasn’t the idea to call it The Benedict Job?) All seem to be funnier this time around: Scott Caan and Casey Affleck’s bickering-brother shtick; Eddie Jemison’s nerdy Livingston (who, since the first heist, has been saving money by living with his parents); Matt Damon’s striving, boyish Linus. In a late scene, as the gang has been scattered, three of them try desperately to think of a course of action, running down names of tried-and-true cons. “What about Hell in a Handbasket?” one suggests. No, says Damon, perfectly deadpan. “We can’t train a cat that quickly.”
“Ocean’s Twelve” is full of throwaway humor and pretty faces; it’s a popcorn movie to be sure, but it’s exactly what popcorn movies are supposed to be: effortless pleasure. Watch Vincent Cassel, as a legendary thief known as the Night Fox, performing a weird, rubber-limbed breakdance as a means of getting across a gallery pavilion laced with moving security laser beams. At the end, as he’s safely crossed the floor, he does a nimble little leap, clicking his heels together in triumph.
That’s what Soderbergh’s doing here; light and loose. He’s capable of far more ambitious work, and no doubt will achieve it; for now, he’s clicking his heels.
Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725