Ocean’s Eleven are back in business in Steven Soderbergh’s sequel to his blockbusting 2001 heist movie. George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Julia Roberts, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Matt Damon are among the stars. Review by Kevin O’Reilly.
Three years ago, a team of brilliant thieves robbed the Bellagio casino in Las Vegas of a hundred and sixty million dollars. Known as Ocean’s Eleven, the crew was recruited and led by criminal mastermind Danny Ocean (George Clooney). The job was practically impossible on paper but, thanks to skill, teamwork and a lot of luck, they pulled it off and disappeared. Three years later, their luck has run out. The casino’s ruthless owner, Terry Benedict (Andy Garcia) tracks each of them down and makes them an offer they can’t refuse: they have two weeks to return every cent of his money, plus interest. People who disappoint Mr Benedict don’t live very long.
Since the guys are collectively short by ninety million dollars, their only option is to come out of retirement and plan another heist. And since they’re too well known within the underworld and the law enforcement community to work in the United States, a trip to Europe is in order. The first port of call is Amsterdam, where a local crime boss has a job that may be right up their street.
Ocean’s Eleven, Steven Soderbergh’s remake of a 1960s heist flick, was a terrific piece of entertainment: a simple, beautifully constructed caper movie with a dream cast, a cool, witty script and a spectacularly elaborate robbery. It made $180 million in America alone, making it the director’s biggest hit to date and one of the top blockbusters of 2001. Nobody was surprised when Warner Bros announced a sequel but eyebrows were raised when Soderbergh himself agreed to return. Sequels didn’t seem like his style.
As it turns out, sequels aren’t his style. Ocean’s Twelve is a self-indulgent mess which just about gets by as entertainment thanks to the appeal of its cast and Soderbergh’s artful direction. I’m speaking for myself when I say it gets by. There were walkouts at the screening I attended and I detected little enthusiasm from the large crowd. This isn’t a love-it-or-hate-it movie, it’s a kind-of-like-it-or-hate-it movie. I sort of, kind of liked it but I’ll be in no hurry to see it again and I can’t recommend it to you. There are too many things wrong with it, most of them stemming from the muddled screenplay by George Nolfi, whose only previous credit is Timeline.
The cast is poorly deployed, considering how much money and effort must have gone into reassembling them. George Clooney has surprisingly little to do and his top billing is justified by giving him pointless scenes like the one where he frets about how old he looks. Other stars crucial to the original are either barely in the sequel or are wasted, among them Don Cheadle, Bernie Mac and Elliott Gould. Of the Ocean’s Eleven team, only Brad Pitt and Matt Damon are given meaty roles. Damon is amusing as a nervous youngster treating the whole trip as work experience and Pitt has fun flirting with Catherine Zeta-Jones (playing his former lover, a cop). Jones is also on form, although her final scene fails to touch the emotions because, if you think about it, it makes no sense at all (much like the entire final heist after what George Clooney reveals afterwards). To discuss Julia Roberts’ role is to spoil too much of the plot but it must be said she’s a good sport.
The robberies are ludicrous. Part of the fun of a heist movie comes from watching the heroes getting away with something and we need to believe on some level that what they’re doing is possible. The heist in Ocean’s Eleven is probably absurd to anyone knowledgeable about casino security but it’s convincing enough for the average viewer. None of the thefts in Ocean’s Twelve could seem convincing to anyone, from the early scene where the team foil a security system by tilting a old brick townhouse at an angle (!) to the big museum setpiece at the end, which is so daft in so many ways that the film has to play it mostly for laughs. There’s no suspense at all, despite the constant subtitles counting down the time till Benedict’s money is due.
Maybe Soderbergh deliberately structured the film this way to differentiate it from the original. If so, he’s made a terrible mistake. The director might have successfully made a legal drama without a courtroom climax (Erin Brockovich) and a revenge movie without any cathartic scenes of revenge (The Limey) but by trying to make a heist movie without a decent heist, he’s fallen flat on his face.
There is far, far too much self-referential humour. In-jokes can be fun in moderation but Ocean’s Twelve is smothered by them. Too many of these jokes assume you’ve seen Ocean’s Eleven and remember it well. There is also an excessive number of cameo appearances by recognisable actors. A couple of these add something, like the British comedian playing the computer whizz. Most don’t. One very famous Hollywood actor pops up towards the end, playing himself and he tags along throughout most of the climactic heist, sending himself up and further draining away the little tension there is. In fact that whole set piece is based on a whopping in-joke at the expense of one of the stars. The gag is good for a couple of laughs but it’s milked and milked until it finally just seems silly.
For all his brilliance as a film-maker, Steven Soderbergh struggles against a tendency to be clever and postmodern to the point where he disappears up his own backside. You only have to look at his failed 2002 art movie Full Frontal for a demonstration of what happens when he gives in to it. It’s not enough just to be clever and postmodern. There has to be a movie underneath. The director is at his best when he’s working with strong screenplays and reining himself in (see Out Of Sight and the original Ocean’s Eleven). Here he’s working with a mediocre one and indulging himself.
It’s the end, but the moment has been prepared for…
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