Three years ago, Tess Ocean’s husband Danny and his friends stole $160 million from Las Vegas casino owner Terry Benedict.
And now Terry Benedict is knocking on her door, wanting that money back — plus interest.
That’s the captivating setup for “Ocean’s Twelve,” the sequel to the 2001 all-star heist picture by Steven Soderbergh.
Unfortunately, “Twelve” shows signs of diminishing returns. The sequel isn’t a total failure, but it lacks a smooth plot and compelling storytelling. It works too hard — or maybe it doesn’t work hard enough — to pull off the effortless charm of its predecessor.
All the stars are back — cocky leader Danny Ocean (George Clooney), beautiful Tess (Julia Roberts), strong, silent type Rusty (Brad Pitt), plus the rest of the gang, including Matt Damon, Elliott Gould and Don Cheadle. The team of thieves is forced to reunite when Benedict (Andy Garcia) tracks them all down, telling them he’ll have them killed if they can’t pay him back within two weeks.
The total they owe Benedict now is nearly $200 million, and Ocean decides Europe is the only place they can make that big a score. But their attempts to rob Europe are being thwarted by a mysterious rival, known only as “The Night Fox” (played by French star Vincent Cassel).
To top it all off, a detective (Catherine Zeta-Jones) who has a romantic past with Rusty is hot on their trail.
Needless to say, there’s twists and turns galore, with things not quite turning out how Ocean’s crew would like — or do they?
The easy chemistry of the actors involved goes a long way toward obscuring “Twelve’s” considerable flaws — and it’s a real “who’s who” of Hollywood gossip columns, with Zeta-Jones, Albert Finney and a hilarious appearance by Bruce Willis added for good measure this time.
Unfortunately, the cast gets too large, with some, particularly Bernie Mac and Carl Reiner, nearly reduced to cameos.
Clearly, the stars had a blast with this globe-trotting shoot, but unfortunately, the fun doesn’t always come up on screen. The movie takes a good while to get going.
It’s almost as if director Soderbergh set out to subvert all the blockbuster expectations — Ocean’s team fails, repeatedly, and things rarely turn out as expected. This kind of backwards satire sort of works, but the plot is nearly incomprehensible at times.
The story moves in sputters and jerks, and entire scenes seem superfluous or are hard to follow (I’m still trying to figure out how Ocean learns who the Night Fox is). The movie isn’t sure if it’s a romance, a heist picture or a postmodern indie comedy.
There’s a lot of great one-liners, particularly a few jabs about Clooney’s age and a hilarious satirical sequence involving Roberts’ character that might just be the highlight of the movie.
Really, “Ocean’s Twelve” is a movie more about the madcap glamorous life to be had putting on heists rather than the actual heists themselves. The theft here doesn’t really matter or become a central part of the story. The plot is a framework for good-looking actors with pithy quips and one-liners.
“Twelve” is still oozing with hipster style, and Soderbergh’s visual imagination saunters off the screen. There’s lot of jump-cuts, tinted colors and imaginative transitions, and a throbbing music soundtrack that makes the movie seem like more fun than it really is.
By the end, you really don’t care who’s double-crossed who and who’s being scammed. Trickery overload sets in, and the resolution lacks the clean symmetry of “Ocean’s Eleven.”
You’re starting to suspect the biggest con victim might just be the audience, hoping for something as carefree and snappy as “Ocean’s Eleven” but getting warmed-over reruns instead.
(Rated PG-13 for language and adult situations.)
**1/2 of four