Star power

Hokey script saved by stellar cast and smart direction

Dec 15, 2004 at 12:00 am

Sure, 1960’s Ocean’s Eleven wasn’t exactly a cinematic masterpiece. The glib tale of World War II vets reunited to knock off a couple of Vegas casinos was a fairly straightforward effort, but its success was propelled by its stars: The Rat Pack, doing what they did best — boozing, wisecracking, skirt-chasing … essentially, playing themselves.

It was simple and somewhat sluggish, but a beautiful little memento of the decadence of the martini-swilling ’60s, of Deano, Frankie and Sammy live at the Sands in Vegas … those were the days, eh, buddy boy?

Thus, it was with great trepidation that I received the 2001 slick Hollywood remake. However — surprise, surprise — it actually turned out to be a joyously entertaining (if very loosely based) interpretation, thanks mostly to the tremendously stylish direction of Steven Soderbergh, whose credits include Out of Sight, one of the best films of the ’90s. Although the new Eleven couldn’t quite match the gritty snappiness of Out of Sight, the terrific score and dashing visuals remained.

But Hollywood can’t leave well enough alone … and thus it was with even greater trepidation that I received Ocean’s Twelve.

However — surprise, surprise — it isn’t half bad … for a sequel.

The plot requires some massive suspension of disbelief, and there are a number of hopelessly hokey conventions, but Soderbergh’s snazzy touch manages to elevate the film above just another vapid Hollywood ensemble flick.

In Eleven, Danny Ocean (George Clooney) and Rusty Ryan (Brad Pitt) oversaw a motley crew of thieves in stealing a motherlode of cash from ruthless casino owner Terry Benedict (Andy Garcia), and stealing Benedict’s gal, Danny’s ex-wife Tess (Julia Roberts).

But wily ol’ Terry has now caught up with each of the 11 (the revolting Roberts makes 12), and is demanding his money be paid back in full — plus interest.

Since most of the boys have squandered their share, they must hatch an elaborate heist to pay off their debt. (Wait, since when do thieves — master thieves — ever so willingly and politely agree to pay back their victim? Especially since Benedict’s entire losses were already covered by his insurance? Oh, that’s right, there wouldn’t be a plot …)

And so, the group is off to Europe, where they bump into Europol detective and master thief-tracker Isabel (Catherine Zeta-Jones) who just so happens to be Rusty’s jilted ex. Ho-hum. There’s also an overly cheesy bit with yet another master thief, some French dude who goes by — get this — the Night Fox.

Yes, this all sounds terrible, but Soderbergh and the all-star cast shine so brightly they manage to cast a lovely veneer over all that pesky plot crap.

Clooney and Pitt had an utterly delightful friendly-elbow-in-the-ribs rapport in the last installment, and it’s still here, but less so. The two of them are clearly relishing their parts, and smirk their way through the entire film. But the clear standout is Matt Damon, as the overly eager but still green Linus, who hounds Rusty and Danny like a little puppy in his quest to gain more knowledge and leverage in the heists. In turn, the two veterans torment the gullible Linus with a series of utterly cruel practical jokes that are hysterical to watch, as is Damon’s flustered embarrassment. It’s a shame we don’t get to see more of Elliott Gould and Don Cheadle, who tend to get lost in the shuffle here. Roberts is the weakest link, per usual, turning in a bland performance and looking remarkably haggard with stringy brown hair and bags under her eyes.

The bigger-better-brighter-more sequel mentality makes this a weaker installment than its predecessor, but Ocean’s Twelve is still a great guilty pleasure, and a thoroughly entertaining jar of flashy eye-candy.

Sarah Klein is a Metro Times staff writer. E-mail her at [email protected].