Ocean's Twelve

written by George Nolfi

directed by Steven Soderbergh

starring George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Matt Damon and more


review by Stephen Notley

Steven Soderbergh's 2001 Ocean's Eleven was a slick, breezy heist movie, an elaborate clockwork-like plan requiring the specific talents of eleven guys like George Clooney and Brad Pitt and bendy Chinese dude Shaobo Qin to crack security around Andy Garcia's Las Vegas casino, all to the purpose of providing a context for the guys to hang out together and act cool while we get to watch. Now we've got a sequel, Ocean's Twelve, and one might easily assume that it's more of the same --hefty cast, frothy banter, exacting heist-management, the big score-- except in Europe.

Kinda, but not quite. Ocean's Twelve opens with Andy Garcia making good on his promise to track down George Clooney's Danny Ocean and the rest of his team, whereupon he tells them he wants his $180 million back in two weeks or they're all dead. So where Ocean's Eleven was leisurely, a fun little Las Vegas heist vacation, Ocean's Twelve is desperate, a run-and-gun series of mini-heists to pay the debt. More to the point, this is no longer a team deliberately constructed for a particular job, each of the eleven getting at least a scene or a bit showing off who they are and how they fit into the scam. Now it's just Clooney and Pitt and Matt Damon throwing out robbery ideas while pretty much everybody else blurs into the background.

It takes a while to warm up to Ocean's reconstituted Eleven, with the grimmer tone and smaller character portions; it's almost thirty minutes before the first appreciative rumble emerges from the audience at a bit of Matt Damon's fussy banter. The one major addition to the cast is Catherine Zeta-Jones, not as a member of the team but as a Europol inspector who used to date Brad Pitt's character. As always she's icily beautiful but mostly blank in the personality department, no substitute for the reduced roles of Elliot Gould as the team's financier or Carl Reiner as the turkey-throated old con artist. Clooney and Pitt soldier along with sparks of charm here and there, making the best of a messier plot, though Julia Roberts gets more to do this time with an audacious bit of connery that's amusing enough not to spoil.

Ocean's Twelve started out as a spec script, rewritten to become the Ocean's Eleven sequel, and it shows. Andy Garcia drops out of the picture almost immediately as the team finds itself drawn into a reputational turf-war between European heisters, a Frenchy named the Night Fox as well as a mysterious uber-thief known as LeMarc. The movie may not have the fun and charm of its predecessor, but it's certainly got plenty of enthusiasm for big-score lore, characters chatting about heists of the past and tossing around con strategies with names like Baker's Dozen, Hell in a Handbasket, Looky Loo and Bundle of Joy. Ah, thieves… they have so many different ways to take your stuff!

Drained of the bubbly premise of Ocean's Eleven, Ocean's Twelve struggles to find a purpose. Soderbergh's style is still on display, jazzy incidental music and fleet-footed editing, but it's downshifted into a minor key. There are still the twists and reversals of a good caper, but it's sloppier this time; everything will look bad, then bam! there's a twist and they're back on top and you're going "Huh? How did that work again?" No matter; we've still got a bunch more twists to get through before the end of the movie.

The point of this movie is to hang out with these stars and have fun. This time there's just not as much fun, and it's not as though the fun got ditched to make way for increased importance or meaning or inquiry into the human dilemma. It's just less fun.