I have a friend who hated “Ocean’s Eleven” because he thought it was pretentious, nothing more than a bunch of big-shot Hollywood celebrities saying, “Look at us having fun! Don’t you wish you could be like us?” I find his bitterness puzzling — “Ocean’s Eleven” only begins to tell the story of the things that enrage him, Josh Groban and Alex Trebek being two others — but I can see where he’s coming from. Still, I enjoyed that film and (to a lesser extent) its sequel precisely BECAUSE they’re chock-full of charismatic famous people having a good time. If the performers are having fun, the audience usually will, too.
There’s a little more to “Ocean’s Twelve” than millionaire actors sitting around and laughing, though I admit that seems to be the central idea. The director is Steven Soderbergh once again, and he infuses nearly everything he does with creativity and energy. He puts the camera in interesting places, and moves it and his actors around in unusual ways. The visuals are playful and slightly retro, recalling (as did the first film) a Rat Pack-era Las Vegas full of swingin’ coolness.
The setting this time, however, is Amsterdam and Rome and various points in between. Danny Ocean (George Clooney) has reassembled his team of con men and thieves because the victim of their last heist, casino owner Terry Benedict (Andy Garcia), has made it clear that if the money they stole is not repaid (with interest!) within two weeks, dire things will begin happening to them. He knows all their identities, which spooks them a little, considering the lengths to which they went to avoid detection.
So they’re together again by necessity: They need to do another huge job in order to pay back Benedict. They attempt a small-ish job in Amsterdam as a warm-up for the big finale — stealing a highly valuable Faberge Egg — but are thwarted by a mysterious thief called the Night Fox, who gets there first and subsequently issues a challenge: a race to see who can steal the Faberge Egg first and best. Complications like this, our heroes don’t need.
There is also an international law-enforcement agent named Isabel Lahiri (Catherine Zeta-Jones) on their tail; the fact that she is Rusty’s ex-girlfriend adds more complications to an already-complicated situation.
All eleven of the first film’s characters have returned, a feat that, in Hollywood, ranks up there with robbing the Bellagio in terms of difficulty and precedence. But let’s be honest: Eleven people is too many for a film, and adding a twelfth — especially when it’s the cold, robotic Catherine Zeta-Jones — only makes it more crowded. I’m not even sure why Bernie Mac showed up for the sequel, for example, so limited is his screen time. Poor Don Cheadle gets exactly one great moment — a profanity-laden conversation with a recording-studio engineer in which all the profanity is bleeped out by a ringing phone — and then is relegated to the back burner.
The standout is Matt Damon, whose character of Linus is anxious and unsettled, constantly trying to prove himself of value to the team. George Clooney, Brad Pitt and Julia Roberts play only mild variations of themselves, but Damon plays a real character, and a funny one at that.
“Ocean’s Twelve” is essentially more of “Ocean’s Eleven,” which is generally what audiences want in sequels, I suppose. It is funny, but not AS funny; it is surprising, but not AS surprising; it is good but not AS good.
B (2 hrs., 5 min.; )