Directed by Steven Soderbergh
Ocean's Twelve holds some promise in its premise, but the movie quickly devolves into a totally unnecessary sequel, one in which the biggest con is pulled on unsuspecting audiences being taken for a ride.
Picking up three years after the first episode, Ocean's Eleven, Danny Ocean (George Clooney, Out of Sight) is bored and living a calm life in East Haven, Connecticut, with his wife, Tess (Julia Roberts, Erin Brockovich). Mercifully, Ocean's pulled out of retirement by Terry Benedict (Andy Garcia, Modigliani), who wants Ocean and his crew to return all the money they stole from him in Las Vegas during the shenanigans of the first movie.
And so it is, after a painfully long process of catching up with each of the 11 team members, the usual suspects are reunited. They have two weeks to come up with $190 million or else.
Being an industrious group of con artists, they take off for Europe, where their first stop is Amsterdam and their prize is stock from the Dutch East India Company, the first stock ever traded. Unfortunately, that heist would only earn them a small fraction of their goal.
As one of the grifters notes of their situation, "we're forcing it."
So is the screenplay. Their scams are generic; they could've been pulled off anywhere. Granted, there is a unique spin on the Amsterdam gig that involves the preposterous marshaling of resources to raise a house just a wee bit. But there's no thrill in Ocean's victories and there's certainly no sense of agony in his defeats.
After Amsterdam, the artistes move on to Paris and Rome and ultimately get involved in a contest with a rival con, known as the Night Fox, to snatch a Faberge egg.
Somewhat of a welcome change of pace from the lackluster main story is the addition of a romantic interest for Rusty Ryan (Brad Pitt, Fight Club). Rusty had a fling with Isabel Lahiri (Catherine Zeta-Jones, Traffic) while in Europe a few years back and, well, the return to Europa brought back old feelings for the hottie, who, unfortunately, works on the right side of the law for Europol, the European police.
It's an interesting twist, but at the same time it's a head-scratcher as to why Rusty would go out of his way to spy on Isabel, the same woman he ran away from after she got too close to unlocking his true identity.
The entire movie, though, is full of similar gaps in logic. Suspending disbelief is not a hard thing to do, but there are limits and Ocean's Twelve pushes those limits to a goodwill-smashing extent.
Among the most unforgivably awful moments are two ludicrously staged sequences. One involves Tess pretending to be the most celebrated of Hollywood celebrities, Julia Roberts. Her bogus ID is sniffed out by a long-time friend who makes a cameo appearance, a fellow celeb who shall rename nameless in order to protect his guilt.
The other scene of obnoxious stupidity involves the dynamic dozen-ish riding the trains of Europe. Danny dons an obviously never-before-worn New York Yankees baseball cap while a fellow con sports an equally-new Boston Red Sox cap. The ultimate in beautiful (but terribly ugly) Americans, they start a fight to create a distraction.
Sorry, but neither of those fairly critical scenes work; they probably wouldn't even work as Saturday Night Live skits.
The first time around, the cast was quirky and likeable. This time, though, it feels like hanging out at a high society party for the self-infatuated where, by the end of the evening, you finally decide these people just aren't worth knowing.
The movie oozes in style, but Soderbergh plays the style card a little too much for his own good; it's as if Soderbergh is trying to jazz it up a bit to compensate for the weak material.
The biggest crime is that Soderbergh and company don't take advantage of the cultures, a few lame Francophobic jokes notwithstanding, and the scenery right in front of them. After all, they're in three of the most phenomenally photogenic cities on the planet and the script should have played off those surroundings.
That script, written by George Nolfi (Timeline), was reportedly intended for a John Woo film, but the powers that be had it rewritten for this sequel. It's no wonder, then, that things just don't add up right.
Sure, there's some playful banter occasionally on tap, but that's hardly enough to fill two hours, much of it built around the gorgeous cast mugging for the camera and looking oh so fashionable. Their world is one that veers uncomfortably between self-parody and self-reverential.
Ocean's Twelve, in the end, is merely a fraud, a copycat painting of an amusing original.
• Originally published at MovieHabit.com.