**/**** Image A- Sound B+
starring George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Catherine Zeta-Jones
screenplay by George Nolfi
directed by Steven Soderbergh
by Walter Chaw It's all so very beautiful that it's easy to be seduced by it. The people, of course, are gorgeous. The locations in Amsterdam and Lake Como, Italy are gorgeous. The soundtrack? Gorgeous. Cinematography, direction: gorgeous, gorgeous. None too pretty, though, is that sniffy feeling of crashing a party where you stick out like a sore thumb--where everybody knows everybody else and you keep asking the wrong questions. In that, at least, Steven Soderbergh's Ocean's Twelve is more faithful to the Rat Packer Ocean's Eleven than his own remake of the same--this picture's prequel--was. Ocean's Twelve amounts to a martini-and-lounge party at which everybody's having a really great time as you watch from your chair in the corner, daydreaming of looking like Julia Roberts, talking like brandy in a warm snifter, having more fame than The Beatles, and being richer than God.
In a certain regard, Ocean's Twelve approximates the feeling of attending a studio junket as a member of the press. Picture being surrounded by a gaggle of sour strangers jostling one another for a chance to ask a celebrity some inane question in the midst of coveting the swag, the proximity to stardom, and the attention of publicity half your age and twice your weight in imaginary power. Ocean's Twelve is a role-playing game in which the audience is sold glamour in the vicarious life of movie stars pretending to be master thieves (and, in one bizarre sequence, a pair of movie stars pretending to be themselves) and presumably grateful for the opportunity to get a yellow tan from their florescent glow. I'm not saying it's inexplicable why people would cotton to Ocean's Twelve, I'm just saying that you pay for it in soul as much as you pay for it at the box office.
Danny Ocean (George Clooney) and his ten cohorts in crime (Elliott Gould, Carl Reiner, Scott Caan, Casey Affleck, Shaobo Qin, Matt Damon, Brad Pitt, Bernie Mac, Don Cheadle, Eddie Jemison) are extorted for their heist score from the last film by disgraced lawman Benedict (Andy Garcia). The opening is tightly-constructed and as pleasurable as a jaunt around the marina in a yacht, with the whole gang, including Soderbergh, obviously enjoying themselves. (The entire film, in fact, could pass for the backslapping outtake reels that serve as special features on many a DVD release.) The action shifts to Amsterdam, then to Rome, then to Lake Como (where Clooney owns a real-life love nest) once a lucrative deal is struck with French cat burglar Toulour (Vincent Cassel), who gets a laser-beam tango that trumps co-star Catherine Zeta-Jones's own from Entrapment. Along the way, Isabel Lahiri (Zeta-Jones), an old love interest of Brad Pitt's Rusty, smells a rat and becomes the sequel's VOGUE-cover antagonist. But really, what it all boils down to is pretty people engaged in convoluted iterations of sweet nothings--call it The Sting 2004. Call it a day.
Ocean's Twelve is an amiable, aggressively unchallenging way to pass a little over two hours at the movies. It's Tinseltown with the wattage amped-up to "eleven" ("twelve"?), slices of the good life presented as the sweetest sort of wish-fulfillment pornography. A lot of it feels like it was improvised, Gould neatly walks away with the show, and if you forget even for a second that any of the actors aren't mugging or playing amplified self-caricatures, then the picture's done more than it set out to do. (Note Bruce Willis's confused, constipated cameo as an example of where the film goes awry when it does.) A time capsule of the current A-list first and a motion picture second, it's a gorgeous spread (it'd make a great calendar: one idol per month) that ultimately meets one's expectations for the palate cleanser between good movies from Soderbergh. Next up for the filmmaker: Che, scripted by Terrence Malick--the success of which will serve as the final barometer of how worthwhile was the insensate beauty of Ocean's Twelve.
Warner presents Ocean's Twelve on DVD in a 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. The disc is adequately authored but the film is so stubbornly naturalistic--perhaps to evoke the glossless capers of the 1970s, although the approach eventually becomes nearly indistinguishable from ennui (unlike, say, the self-conscious yet credible Me Decade homage incorporated into the aesthetic of Alexander Payne's Sideways)--that both the image and the Dolby Digital 5.1 audio are primarily unassuming. I suppose it could all look a tad brighter, but what really disappoints is how alike the 5.1 and 2.0 tracks sound. Tellingly, Ocean's Twelve's is the first Steven Soderbergh film not to come with a DVD commentary since his disowned The Underneath from 1996; a trailer for Ocean's Twelve is the only extra included. Trailers for The Aviator, Andrew Lloyd Webber's The Phantom of the Opera, and Million Dollar Baby cue up automatically upon inserting the disc. Originally published: April 5, 2005.