Cheaper by the dozen

Here’s George Clooney as Danny Ocean. Hopefully the film’s other stars won’t sue us for equal exposure.

Here’s George Clooney as Danny Ocean. Hopefully the film’s other stars won’t sue us for equal exposure.

Rated 2.0

Three years ago, in my review of director Steven Soderbergh’s remake of the 1960 Frank Sinatra caper flick Ocean’s Eleven, I wrote that Soderbergh and writer Ted Griffin ended with a cliffhanger, as if they were, “against all reason,” planning a sequel. When the movie went on to earn $450 million worldwide, even I could see that the idea of a sequel was becoming a lot more reasonable. Well, now it’s here.

Ocean’s Twelve picks up some years after the super-heist in which Danny Ocean (George Clooney) and his 10 partners in crime stole $160 million from ruthless Vegas casino owner Terry Benedict (Andy Garcia). After splitting the take, they’ve all gone their separate ways. Danny has even remarried his ex-wife, Tess (Julia Roberts); they’re about to celebrate their “second third anniversary.”

But Benedict tracks them all down. All things considered, he’s more reasonable than you might expect. He tells them he’ll give them two weeks to repay the money they stole from him, plus interest.

In this elaborate setup, Garcia falls victim to one of the movie’s biggest problems: the almost obsessive interest in giving equal time to everyone in the all-star cast. Poor Garcia, whose role amounts to a glorified cameo anyway, has to play the same scene over and over with each and every one of the original 11 thieves. I began to wonder if Clooney, Roberts, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Don Cheadle, Bernie Mac, Carl Reiner, Elliott Gould, etc., all had clauses in their contracts stipulating that they should get the same amount of footage as everyone else. It plays hell with the film’s pacing; it feels as if every time the gang walks through a door or sits down in a jail cell, we have to watch the same shot 11 times.

To try to make good on the money they owe, Danny and the gang get involved in an escalating series of capers that send them globetrotting through some of the most photogenic cities of Europe (Amsterdam, Paris and Rome), where their shenanigans attract the attention of a detective with “Europol” (Catherine Zeta-Jones) who knows they’re up to no good—and who also has a personal score to settle with Danny’s once and present partner, Rusty Ryan (Brad Pitt).

That’s as far as I should go into the plot of George Nolfi’s convoluted script; I don’t want to spoil anything. Besides, it’s much too complicated for its own good and is hardly worth keeping track of; it goes right out of your head even as you’re watching it. Let’s just say there comes a time when the gang’s plans go awry and Tess is pressed into service to salvage the caper. The night I saw the movie, most of the audience greeted this twist with surprise and delight; still, I don’t think I’m the only one who saw it coming—or who found it lame and forced—carrying the movie’s self-referential in-jokes a step too far.

Ocean’s Twelve has few of the virtues of its predecessor: the lively dialogue; the boozy energy; and the hazy, sleepless casino atmosphere. What’s worse, it has all the faults of the original Sinatra version: the flaccid pacing, the tourist-trap postcard photography and the good-sport cameo appearances by friends of the stars and director. Throughout it all, there’s the mildly distasteful sense that we’re paying to watch a bunch of spoiled stars larking about on a working vacation, staying at the best hotels that Hollywood’s money can buy and condescending to the poor slobs in the audience who don’t get to spend their workdays preening on the Champs Elysées or the Via Veneto.

Ocean’s Twelve is harmless enough, and you can’t really begrudge Soderbergh, Clooney, Roberts, Pitt and the rest their free trip to Europe, or all the fun they seem to be having. But, at the same time, these people are world-class stars with better stuff in them. We deserve more than this kind of trivial fooling around—and, for that matter, so do they. All things considered, when 2007 rolls around, I hope they’re all too busy to do Ocean’s Thirteen.