First, let's get one thing clear: 2004's "Ocean's Twelve" is not as good a heist film as 2001's "Ocean's Eleven." But, then, it was never meant to be.
Instead, "Ocean's Twelve" is meant to be more of a throwback to the old 1960 Sinatra/rat-pack film, "Ocean's 11," that inspired both of the newer films. "Ocean's Twelve" is light and breezy, full of good-hearted camaraderie, the kind of picture where it looks like the cast is having more fun than the audience. The plot is almost inconsequential, clearly subordinate to the characters and the good time the characters are having. None of which means "Ocean's Twelve" is a bad movie. Indeed, in its own way I found it at least as entertaining as "Ocean's Eleven." Just don't expect quite the same thing, even though the stars and the director remain pretty much the same as before.
Of course, we know that no cast or director of any worth would want to duplicate a previous success in every detail, especially not in Hollywood where imitative sequels and follow-ups are so infrequent. I mean, where would the integrity be in that? So, it's good to see Stephen Soderbergh and his actors tackle a little something different this time out. The movie won't entirely please the dedicated caper-flick fan, but it's still got its surprises along the way to provide its own delights.
If you remember, when we left Danny Ocean and his crew of international thieves, they had just lifted $160,000,000 from a Vegas casino. As we take up the story two-and-a-half years later, the casino owner, Terry Benedict, has gotten wind of who stole his money and he wants it back, with interest! Although Ocean and his buddies have all gone their separate ways by now, Benedict tracks them down, and there's nothing for the gang to do but get back together and pull off another job or two to raise the cash.
It's a wonder Soderbergh was able to reassemble the same cast, considering the sheer number of high-profile stars involved. There's Clooney, of course, plus Brad Pitt, Julia Roberts, Matt Damon, Don Cheadle, Bernie Mac, Casey Affleck, Scott Caan, Carl Reiner, Elliott Gould, Eddie Jemison, and Shaobo Qin as the gang members. Whereas in the first movie their individual jobs were clearly identified, now they just show up. Obviously, the filmmakers are relying on our having seen the first picture to know what each person's speciality is. In addition, Andy Garcia returns as the ticked-off casino owner; Catherine Zeta-Jones is a police detective specializing in international theft; Vincent Cassell plays Baron Francois Toulour, a rival thief who calls himself "the Night Fox"; Robbie Coltrane is a big-time crook who sets up deals; and Jeroen Krabbe is a rich mark. Then, if that weren't enough, there are several surprise guest stars who pop up in cameo roles. The biggest chunk of the movie's $110,000,000 budget must have gone to pay the actors' salaries.
If you don't catch all of what's going on in "Ocean's Twelve," don't feel bad; you're not supposed to. Soderbergh's penchant for time shifts, flashbacks and flash-forwards, a semidocumentary style, and ostensibly extemporaneous acting only serve to further muddle what is already a complicated and totally preposterous set of activities. At one point, the gang actually raise a whole building off its foundations just to get a clear shot with a crossbow through a window. And that isn't easy when the building is several stories tall and sitting on an Amsterdam canal. I've watched this movie twice now and still don't understand everything that happens in it. I figure if I watch it again, I'll have it maybe 90% worked out, which is probably more than the screenwriter and director could explain. The fact is, we're not expected to figure it all out. Part of the movie's fun is its very absurdity.
No, nothing is simple in this film, including a bet the Night Fox makes with Ocean's gang that he can steal a fabulous Faberge egg before they can. If he wins, Ocean has to admit that the Fox is the better thief; if the Fox loses, he promises to pay back all the money Ocean and company owe to Benedict. Finally, there's the appearance of another mysterious figure who's intended to be a surprise. I hope I haven't already spoiled it. As I said, none of it makes much sense in any case, but it's not where the journey ends up that counts but the joys of the trip itself. And this trip is a trip.
Soderbergh seems to alternate making small, intimate, art-house kind of movies with big, full-scale commercial ones. Consider "The Limey," "Erin Brockovich," "Traffic," and the "Ocean's Eleven" along with "Sex, Lies and Videotape," "Full Frontal," and "Solaris." In "Ocean's Twelve," the director pokes fun at all the stars involved, even Clooney getting his share of ribs. "Do I look fifty to you?" he asks Cheadle. "Yeah," answers Cheadle. "Well, only from the neck up." Roberts and Damon needle their own movie personas, Roberts as an imitation of herself, literally, and Damon as a naive, woebegone beginner. In fact, Damon has one of the funniest scenes in the film when he's trying to converse with gangster Coltrane on a big heist deal and can't understand a word of the underworld lingo.
"Ocean's Twelve" is easygoing (think of Sinatra's album "Nice 'N' Easy") and mostly charming, but it may be too devoid of plot or character development to satisfy every audience member. In that case, I recommend the viewer simply enjoy the scenic highlights of Las Vegas, Beverly Hills, Paris, Amsterdam, Lake Como, Rome, Monaco, and elsewhere. The movie has much to delight the eye as well as tickle the funny bone.
The video quality on this one veers wildly all over the map. Although the closing credits indicate the use of Panavision cameras and lens, director Soderbergh seems to want us to believe the picture was photographed with handheld digital cameras. I suppose it's part of his cinematic feel, to try and emulate a spontaneous, documentary-like look to everything. As a result, some of the images are clear and sharp, while others are vague and fuzzy; some of the color is bright and deep, while other hues are muted and glassy. The picture is presented in an anamorphic widescreen ratio measuring about 2.13:1 across my 36" Sony XBR HD television, but the bit rate used fluctuates between medium and medium-high, so although black levels are strong, facial tones and moiré effects vary. Much of the time, faces are a touch too dark and orangish, while grain comes and goes, and detail is lost in shadow. As I say, I'm sure it's all intentional, but on the small, demanding TV screen it becomes a little distracting.
The sound is reproduced via Dolby Digital 5.1 technology, but again Soderbergh doesn't spend much time with it. Practically nothing comes through the rear speakers save a barely noticeable musical ambience enhancement. The front speakers produce some good, clear tones, though, if not doing a lot in the bass department.
The bonus materials are an ominous sign. There virtually aren't any. All we get are scene selections and a widescreen theatrical trailer. Spoken languages come in English and French, with subtitles in English, French, and Spanish. Why do I say this is ominous? Because the movie did very well at the box office, pulling in over $125,000,000 in the U.S. alone, and that would usually indicate a DVD with a healthy dose of extras. But here we get almost none. There is no word from Warner Bros. at this time that a special edition is at hand, but there is that distinct possibility, especially considering the first movie, "Ocean's Eleven," had a number of extras on the disc.
As I said at the outset, I found "Ocean's Twelve" at least as amusing as its predecessor, but I recognize that this is probably a minority opinion. The first movie seemed awfully pat to me, too much like a typical heist flick, with all its usual, logical intricacies. "Ocean's Twelve," on the other hand, is more like a family outing; that is, it's an adventure with people we know and like, people we're familiar with and can depend on. The fun comes in the casts' seemingly improvised repartee and self parody. It's all lightweight fluff, to be sure, but it's fun, harmless, and, for me, completely engaging fluff.