A film review by Craig J. Koban


2004, PG-13, 125 mins.


Danny Ocean: George Clooney / Rusty Ryan: Brad Pitt / Isabel Lahiri: Catherine Zeta-Jones / Tess Ocean: Julia Roberts / Linus: Matt Damon / Reuben: Eliott Gould / Turk: Scott Caan / Basher: Don Cheadle / Terry Benedict: Andy Garcia / Saul: Carl Reiner / Francois: Vincent Cassel

Directed by Steven Soderbergh/  Written by George Clayton Johnson, Jack Golden Russell and George Nolfi


There is much to admire in OCEAN’S TWELVE, Steven Soderbergh’s sequel to the 2001 hit OCEAN’S ELEVEN, which in turn was a remake of the famous Rat Pack classic. 

Firstly, the film is packed to the rim with stars and exists purely on a level of letting their often self-indulgent charm and eccentricities wander rampantly.  That, in itself, is not altogether a bad thing.  It has been said in the press that the stars of the film had so much fun making OCEAN’S TWELVE that it felt less like actual work and more like a paid vacation.  This sort of vibe breathes through every pore of the film’s 120 minutes, and the actors do, in fact, have a great amount of joy hamming it up with one another.  There has rarely been this much carefree and underplayed chemistry with such a high profile and large A-list group of actors, and OCEAN’S TWELVE, as a result of this facet, is quite a blast.   

The film is also hip, cool, and flashy in its directorial style in a sort of suave, retro, European art house film kind of way, and Soderbergh has great fun using color filters, freeze frames, text and titles, black and white, and many other visual tricks to make his film, visually, very appealing.  Yet, the film, unfortunately, is marred by such ludicrous implausibilities and an inanely convoluted plot that I started to tune out more than I should have.  Remember folks, this is supposed to be a light and slick caper film, not one that has a plot so dense and complicated that I am sure that, even after multiple viewings, you’ll just lose interest.  OCEAN’S TWELVE is a real contradiction; it’s entertaining and is fun, but it’s so trivial, redundant, and painfully overwritten to the point of being pretentious.  You’ll leave it admiring the style, but also feel that there is just too much substance to the story. 

OCEAN’S TWELVE opens fairly modestly, reintroducing us to the major players of the first film while also revealing new ones that will figure heavily into the plot.  As the film opens Danny Ocean (George Clooney) is happily married, again it seems, to his beautiful wife Tess (Julia Roberts) – they are just celebrating their “second” third anniversary.  As she is chatting away with her husband on the phone a strange black car pulls up (never a good sign).  Slowly but surly, Tess begins to realize who it is.  The man that knocks on her door is Casino kingpin Terry Benedict (Andy Garcia, as cool as ever, if not pitifully underused here).  In case you have forgotten, this is the same Benedict that “Ocean’s Eleven” robbed in the first film of over $160 million, and he is mighty p-oed.  Of course, he is constantly reminded that he was eventually paid back the money by insurance companies, but that is not the point.  Benedict wants “his” money back from the people that “stole it from him”, and his wants are modest to him.  He wishes all members of Ocean’s ratpack to pay him back the $160 mil (plus interest) in only two week or…well…face the consequences, namely painful death.   

Ocean, subsequently, gathers up his gang and realizes that each one would have to kick in about $19 million apiece.  Just about all of them, except one, does not have that sort of cash lying around anymore, so the group is in a real pickle it seems.  The only way out of this mess, Ocean feels, is to pull off another caper (or capers) to ensure that Benedict gets his money.  Seeing as they can no longer really get any work of this kind stateside, the bunch of them travel off to Europe to seek out work that will provide them with the necessary funding to pay off Benedict and live happily ever after.  Impeding their efforts is Isabel (Catherine Zeta-Jones) a police inspector whom has a past with Rusty (Brad Pitt).   

The group, needless to say, does not feel to overly confident in their own unique abilities to be able to make the necessary money for Benedict in the short time frame.  This is made especially more difficult when they learn that another professional thief known only as The Nightfox is taking quite a bit of business away from them (the group never really faced formidable competition in the first film).  Eventually, their plan to pay off Benedict leads them to making a deal with the Nightfox himself and, if successful, The Nightfox agrees to pay off their entire debt.  If Ocean’s party fails, then they’ll all be pushing up daisies.  All I can say about their plan is that it is far too complicated to write down in this review, and it is a hellova lot more complicated watching it unfold in the film. 

OCEAN’S TWELVE, much like its predecessor, exists purely on the level of us enjoying the camaraderie of the large inventory of characters, almost all of whom are likeable, funny, and appealing.  There is Ocean himself, the cool, collected, and sardonic head of the group.  Then there is Rusty, Danny’s right hand man who is equally disarming.  I also liked Linus (Matt Damon) who is the more grounded, shy, and earnest of the group members, who seems, more than in the first film, to want to prove himself more in a much-expanded “central role”.  His boyish and sincere integrity makes for a good foil to Danny and Rusty.  Carl Reiner and Elliot Gould also return to ham it up the only way they know how.  Some of the other characters seem much more vacant in the story this time around (interestingly enough, Bernie Mac seems to get the least screen time).  Roberts, who makes much more of an impression later in the film, does play a larger role in the proceedings in the final act.  Out of all the characters, Isabel, played by Jones, seems to be the only person that seems to be given the most weight as a real character.  Nevertheless, the film is a real trip because of its actors, and the interplay between them is fast, smart, and breezy. 

The real problem with OCEAN’S TWELVE is the fact that it sort of implodes on the ridiculousness of its plot.  The original OCEAN’S ELEVEN, filmed with Frank Sinatra and his Ratpack in 1960, was a simpleminded send up of caper movies.  The remake in 2001 was also just as pedestrian, but was just as energetic and slick, and it demonstrated Soderbergh’s abilities to take a more mainstream type of genre and, well, just prove that he could pull it off in his own unique way.  OCEAN’S TWELVE is enjoyable and entertaining in much the same way, but gone is the streamlined and simple narrative and, as it unfolds, it becomes something so muddled, confusing, and complicated that you begin to stare at the screen and wait for a really good story to begin.  The film is overly long (over two hours, which seems far too dense for its basic premise, which was far from engaging in the first place).   

Part of the story’s problem is its huge leaps in logic.  In OCEAN’S ELEVEN I was pretty much willing to believe that the group could pull off the impossible and rob a Casino right under the watchful eyes of its owner.  Really, I did.  But some of OCEAN’S TWELVE takes so much liberties with basic logic that you kind of throw up your hands in disgust more than you would care to admit.  Evidence of this occurs during scenes of an early robbery in the film, when the group is attempting to steal a document from an Amsterdam man from his mansion that is under heavy surveillance plus, he never leaves home.  Their homework indicates that there is a control pad on a wall that could be used to cut the alarms. 

Their incredible plan to reach it involves going underneath the house, which apparently rests on underwater pylons, and actually raise the house a few inches to make a shot with an arrow much easier.  Yup, sure, right.  How about just aiming better, not to mention the trouble of going underneath the home without ever being spotted.  There is another target that involves a priceless jeweled egg that, after all of the final reveals are shown that indicate the particulars of who got it, how and when, I just could not accept it, not to mention the super human effort it took one character to bypass the laser scanners.  This character’s abilities to make it past this intricate security system seemingly make him beyond mortal.  I understand the cinematic principle of "suspension of disbelief", but I needed an extra harness to hold it up for that moment.

Another element that kind of bothered me about this film involves some playful self-satire at star Julia Roberts, which I shall not reveal other than to say that it involves her sending up her own real-life image.  This too involves a surprise celebrity cameo that also will not be revealed, other than to say that the payoff with the celebrity cameo seems so stilted and forced that it appears that the writers realized how completely implausible and false the cameo really played off.  All I can say is that with the posturing of Roberts in this moment of satire and the appearance actor, the film’s “fourth wall” is completely broken and, for more than  a few minutes, the magic of the film was gone.  It seemed less like a ballsy stylistic device and more like a cute in-joke that is taken on to perverse levels.  It became a press conference of vanity and less about story and character at this point. 

OCEAN’S TWELVE is a film that’s really hard to dislike.  This film is all about stars, star power, hip and frank dialogue, and character interaction.  It’s a film that is never too silly, but also does not take it self too seriously ever.  The performers are all here and having a great time, and their sense of spontaneity and enjoyment really shines through the proceedings.  Also, Soderbergh’s keen, astute, and unique directorial eye is always a pleasure to watch, as he has great reverence for going all out for making a stylish visual film that’s never dull to look at, nor is it to listen to (the soundtrack is great).  Yet, the screenplay is a mess of interwoven complexities that, the more the film went on, the less I bought into it or cared about. 

OCEAN’S TWELVE is a sassy con flick that has the stars parade around with the charisma of a red carpet premiere and is entertaining, but the story they are involved in subverts any further enjoyment from the piece.  The fact that it can’t sustain an interest (or believability) in its plot ultimately hurts the film.  When all is said and done, no amount of celebrity power can save the film.  I enjoyed watching OCEAN’S TWELVE, but loathed the way it unfolded.  The film is an invite for the audience to watch the actors swim though tongue-in-cheek waters and for that much, the film works.  Those of you who want a satisfying heist flick, this one is pretty negligible.  Because of its style, confident direction, and bounty of gorgeous and lively actors, OCEAN’S TWELVE comes across as being better than it really is. 

Trust me, twelve is not the new eleven.


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