Starring George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Andy Garcia, Don Cheadle, Bernie Mac, Vincent Cassel, Shaobo Qin, Carl Reiner, Casey Affleck, Scott Caan, Elliot Gould, Robbie Coltrane, Eddie Izzard, and Julia Roberts
“Ocean’s Twelve” is a celebration of masculinity. It is a celebration of sharp suits, of wise-ass remarks, of drinks with olives in them, of cigars and card games, of loud music, of bold-faced, obvious lying. It celebrates guys standing around like nothing bothers them, peacock-puffed in the knowledge that the truth of who they are is nothing in the face of the images they project toward one another, pretending not to care about the women who are watching them. It is a movie in which hardly a single joke is spoken as if it were a joke. You have to listen if you’re going to laugh.
“Ocean’s Twelve” is also a heist movie, but just barely. Director Stephen Soderbergh gives the flick a sort of cocky disinterest when it actually comes to assembling all the pieces. Heist-style episodes are strung along a labyrinthine plot that a lesser movie would want us to gush over by making it crystal clear. Instead, there are all sorts of twists and connections and cons that we only kind of understand. Soderbergh has directed “Ocean’s Twelve” as if one of The Guys were telling it to us at a party: we’ve already had a few drinks, the music’s too loud, he keeps talking into his chest. But he’s too cool to explain things better or tolerate an interruption. And we feel that cool, too, when the movie’s over, as if “making sense” were the business of people who don’t know how to kick back.
You will remember, from the 2001 “Ocean’s Eleven,” that ex-con Danny Ocean (George Clooney, always sporting at least the traces of a shit-eating grin) and his ten cohorts robbed the Bellagio casino in Las Vegas of millions. Now, its owner, the vile Terry Benedict (Andy Garcia, whose wardrobe is now a cross between a Bond villain and Dracula) has tracked them down, with the aid of a mysterious informant, and wants his money back. With interest. Benedict, when questioned about whether it’s fair to get back his money, even after he made back all the millions in insurance and again the next day at the casino, coldly replies “I hope not.” You will remember that one of the high points of “Ocean’s Eleven” was his expression of self-contained fury when he realized he had lost so much money, and the girl.
Ocean, now married to the girl (Julia Roberts), welcomes the opportunity to get back into the game, and he takes off for Amsterdam. That’s A-M-S-T-E-R-D-A-M. He is joined by the same crew as before, numbering greater than the movie X-Men but already more developed and interesting. Chief among them is the always-snacking Rusty (Brad Pitt); he and Ocean still finish one another’s sentences. One of Julia Roberts’ chief duties is to be married to Ocean so that we know he and Rusty are just friends. There’s also Matt Damon as the young upstart, sometimes sycophant, sometimes an aspiring leader, who will probably be the young upstart for the rest of his life. Then there’s Elliot Gould, at his most quintessentially Gould, Bernie Mac as loud as ever, Don Cheadle…well, you can see the cast list at the top of the review.
And the heist? There are paintings, there are mansions that must be lifted from underneath, there’s a museum with the world’s largest Faberge egg, there’s a hologram, there’s a French thief named the Nightfox (Parisian Vincent Cassel of “Elizabeth” and “The Reckoning”) who wants to prove his superiority to Ocean, there are secrets from the past. And there’s Catherine Zeta-Jones as a detective determined to bust Rusty. Why is she so determined? Because they used to be a couple and her late dad was a thief who died in a Russian prison.
But mostly “Ocean’s Twelve” is about these actors pairing or re-arranging themselves into smaller groups so they can mouth off under their breath. There’s something about the way Ocean tells his wife “he’s French” when introducing her to the Nightfox that’s so swimmingly obnoxious. Listen to the two brothers from Utah (Scott Caan and Casey Affleck) bicker over how to wear nightvision goggles when they should be watching the museum (“I’ll give you a million dollars to not talk for a month.” “I want to swallow your whole head.”) It’s not the fate of the 90 lbs. Chinese gymnast (Shaobo Qin) trapped in a duffle bag which is so funny, but how calmly the others accept it. The movie has no compunctions about wandering away from the plot for a few minutes, if for no other reason than we can share in the pleasure of someone saying “what are we stealing again?” when it’s time to get back on topic.
Strictly speaking, “Ocean’s Twelve” is much better looking than it has any need to be, with the cool night blues and blown-out orange windows of which Mr. Soderbergh is so fond. It often has the blur of “one drink too many” and puts us in the mood to smart off to someone. It’s a glossy movie, yes, and I frequently complain about movies being too glossy, but it’s a shallow, shiny movie about exotic locales, well-dressed men and a hot Zeta-Jones, so it’s good that it’s glossy. Soderbergh also mines the cinematic styles of the ‘50s, ‘60s, and ‘70s; there were several times when I thought I was watching the original “Alfie” or the original “Italian Job.”
I would give anything to be as cool as these guys. I saw “Ocean’s Twelve” with my wife and a friend of ours who plays poker at his house every Saturday. When the credits rolled, I asked him how soon it would be before he had the movie’s soundtrack to listen to at poker night.
Finished December 21st, 2004
Copyright © 2004 Friday & Saturday Night
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