(Originally published in Rocky Mountain Bullhorn)
If 2001’s Ocean’s Eleven was an agreeably breezy, lightweight trifle, then Steven Soderbergh’s follow-up, Ocean’s Twelve – which reunites the original’s illustrious cast while adding Catherine Zeta-Jones and a few surprise celebrity cameos – is so insubstantial as to barely register as an actual film. Superficial, meandering and beyond pleased with its own supposed coolness, this redundant crime caper affects ‘70s stylishness (via both Soderbergh’s elegantly grainy cinematography and a jazzy score) and an air of arrogant, self-referential joviality without ever positing a convincing reason for its existence. Rarely has an all-star lark been so beautifully constructed and yet so depressingly shallow and unentertaining.
Three years after their ingenious robbery of Las Vegas’ Bellagio casino, Danny Ocean (George Clooney), Rusty Ryan (Brad Pitt), Linus Caldwell (Matt Damon) and the rest of their quirky crew are vainly struggling to adjust to the normal, non-criminal life. When vindictive Bellagio kingpin Terry Benedict (Andy Garcia) discovers the whereabouts of Ocean and company, the wisecracking thieves are given an ultimatum: return Benedict’s millions within two weeks or suffer fatal consequences. With their infamous reputations hindering any future stateside plots, the team flees to Europe, where – in an example of unfocused narrative plotting that saps the film of any cohesion or momentum – they attempt to steal the Faberge egg while simultaneously participating in a burgling contest with France’s legendary “Nightfox” (Vincent Cassel) and alluding the attention of Ryan’s former paramour Isabel Lahiri (Zeta-Jones), an alluring federal detective hot on their trail.
The primary enjoyment of heist films is derived from watching the intricate set-up and execution of the elaborate crime, yet Ocean’s Twelve puts such concerns on the backburner in favor of allowing its stars to mug for the camera in half-witted comedy bits. Though its predecessor deftly straddled the line between providing a crackerjack story while playfully alluding to its own artificiality, Soderbergh’s new film brazenly functions as a vehicle for Hollywood in-jokes and its cast’s rampant narcissism, both of which reach their apogee during a third-act scene in which Ocean’s wife Tess, played by Julia Roberts, impersonates Julia Roberts (replete with numerous self-deprecating jokes about her looks and films) as a distraction during the climactic theft. From Clooney affecting shock that his cohorts think he looks 50 to Pitt’s gratingly conceited smile, the film’s pervasive smugness – when coupled with a story this frivolous and muddled – diminishes any fun to be had from watching a constellation of stars cavort and scheme in trendy locales. Ocean’s Twelve strains mightily to appear relevant, but like an unnecessary second piece of decadent Christmas cake, this off-putting vanity project for its egotistical cast leaves one feeling slightly queasy.