Fri, Dec 31, 2004 - Page 16 News List

All-star cast ham it up for easy laughs and cash

A guaranteed winner at the bank, `Ocean's Twelve' is a crafty caper but nothing to get excited about out

By Manohla Dargis  /  NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE

Julia Roberts got roped in for director Steven Soderbergh's sequel to Ocean's Eleven. The script was adapted to accommodate her real-life pregnancy.


At a certain point in the enjoyable, unabashedly trivial caper flick Ocean's Twelve, a trio of crooks played by Matt Damon, Don Cheadle and Scott Caan start running through the different ways they can get out of their immediate jam. Things have gone badly for these likable rogues and now most of their crew, including the smooth piece of work who gives the film its title, Danny Ocean -- played by the equally silky George Clooney -- have landed in the clink. The crooks are looking for a get-out-of-jail-free card, which, given the film's criminally underdone plot and smog of self-satisfaction, is something that the director Steven Soderbergh may have wanted to stash up his own sleeve.

As anyone within spitting distance of a TV set or a newsstand knows, Ocean's Twelve is the high-profile sequel to Soderbergh's big box-office entertainment Ocean's Eleven. That first feature was based on a big-studio bore from 1960, in which the Rat Pack, led by King Rat Frank Sinatra, gamboled through a Las Vegas-based heist movie that had all the class and staying power of a rhinestone G-string. With their director Lewis Milestone strategically sidelined, the Rat Pack loafed through the movie during the day and performed at the Sands at night. "They say this is hard work, this acting," the biographer Nick Tosches quotes the Rat Packer Dean Martin as saying about the movie. "Work? Work my [obscenity]."

From the film's lackadaisical performances and playfully lazy vibe, Clooney and the rest of the Ocean's Twelve gang know exactly where Dino was coming from. Once again, Clooney's Danny is the leader of the pack, Brad Pitt plays his second-in-command, Rusty Ryan, and Damon plays Linus, a puppy that desperately wants to be a dog but may not have sprouted the requisite fangs. Also on board for the return trip are Julia Roberts, Elliott Gould, Bernie Mac, Casey Affleck, Eddie Jemison, Shaobo Qin and a delightful Carl Reiner, joined by the new recruit Catherine Zeta-Jones as Isabel, a European super cop who favors curve-hugging skirts and the sort of dangerous high heels women wear only so they can kick them off in the bedroom.

Film Notes: Ocean's Twelve

Directed by: Steven Soderbergh

Starring: George Clooney (Danny Ocean), Brad Pitt (Rusty Ryan), Matt Damon (Linus Caldwell), Catherine Zeta-Jones (Isabel Lahiri), Andy Garcia (Terry Benedict), Don Cheadle (Basher Tarr), Bernie Mac (Frank Catton), Julia Roberts (Tess Ocean), Casey Affleck (Virgil Malloy).

Running time: 120 minutes

Taiwan Release: Today

Isabel's heels are just one of many self-conscious fantasy touches in this gleefully artificial construct. The tangled plot, which hinges on the reappearance of one of Danny's former marks (played by Andy Garcia, bringing a little George Sanders flair to the usual screen villainy), zigs and zags from the US to points across Europe, complete with time-and-space warping datelines that make it easy to forget where you are and why. Soderbergh doesn't like to repeat himself, and as the different datelines indicate he's far more interested in attending to the story's loopy digressions, silly jokes and unbridled nonsense than whether it all hangs together. Soderbergh agreed to make Ocean's Twelve, but just because he was making a sequel doesn't mean he was going to repeat himself, for better or worse.

In great caper movies like Jean-Pierre Melville's Red Circle, the caper is the least of it; what matters are honor among thieves, the valor of men and the skill of both the characters and the director. Ocean's Twelve isn't in the timeless league of Melville's classic, in part because having done this kind of thing before Soderbergh clearly has had to work to stay engaged with the material. To that end he pushes narrative logic to the breaking point, gives his actors a very long leash and engages in dicey self-reflexive antics. The director's chief ally in this controlled chaos is George Nolfi, whose very funny screenplay contains hiccups of absurdist lunacy that alternately bring to mind Richard Lester (Help!), a favorite of Soderbergh, and the director's own Schizopolis.

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