by Mel Valentin
After the commercial and critical success of "Oceanís Eleven" a cash-in sequel was inevitable. Time, of course, was of the essence. A screenplay had to be commissioned, the stars signed and assembled, and the film itself produced before the moviegoing publicís pop culture memories evaporated. Luckily, the four principal stars, George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, and Julia Roberts were all available and willing to reprise their roles in the sequel. Director Steven Soderbergh ("Traffic," "Solaris," "The Limey," "Out of Sight"), arguably indispensable to the success of the first film, also returned. Central to "Oceanís Elevenís" success, however, was the chemistry and rapport between the principal leads and the supporting actors.Oceanís Twelve reunites Danny Ocean (George Clooney), his significant other, Tess (Julia Roberts), Rusty Ryan (Brad Pitt), Linus Caldwell (Matt Damon), and the rest of Oceanís crew, all of whom have retired from a life of crime after the successful heist of the first film. Some, like Danny, miss the adrenaline rush of their profession. Others, like Rusty, have tried their hand at making a living legally. In his case, Rusty owns several hotels, all of which are in the red (Topher Grace returns for a hilarious cameo, as a drugged-out, long-haired, bearded actor whoís trashed a hotel room). Their life of ease, however, is about to end.
"Cash-in sequel = rapidly diminishing returns."
Terry Benedict (Andy Garcia), the victim in Oceanís Eleven, has returned to extract vengeance. After discovering their whereabouts, Benedict gives Ocean and his crew an ultimatum: pay him back what theyíve stolen within two weeks or face a violent end. This, of course, serves as the catalyst for Oceanís crew to reunite for additional adventures and misadventures outside of the law. Apparently too ďhotĒ to operate in the United States, Ocean and his crew turn to Europe, first Amsterdam and later Paris and Rome. In one of the more memorable (and funny) dialogue scenes, Danny and Rusty, accompanied by an overeager Linus, meet with their contact, Matsui (Robbie Coltrane). Matsui, it seems, speaks only in code. When Linus is forced to speak, he quotes a stanza from a Led Zeppelin song, only to later discover heís inadvertently insulted Matsuiís family.
Their first heist, a carefully planned theft of a valuable document from a well-guarded safe, proves to be the closest Oceanís Twelve gets to a sustained suspense sequence to rival the original. After Oceanís crew suffers a major reversal of fortune, and with time running out, an alternative presents itself: a fabulously expensive Fabergť egg will go on display at a museum. From there, Ocean and his crew suffer a series of reversals, necessitating improvisation from the more junior members of the crew. Added to the mix is a romantic subplot involving Rusty and Isabel Lahiri (Catherine Zeta-Jones), a Europol detective pursuing Rusty and, by extension, Ocean and his crew.
Good news first: Oceanís Twelve retains most of the appeal of the first film, due primarily to the leads and their relaxed, naturalistic performances and onscreen chemistry. Soderbergh matches his focus on performance with a loose, improvisatory style of filmmaking. Soderberghís direction is as skillful and technically accomplished as ever, even if his techniques have begun to feel overly familiar (e.g., jumping forward and backward in time, jump cuts, track-ins and fluid tracking shots during dialogue scenes, burnished cinematography, etc.).
Now the bad news: George Nolfiís script contains numerous flaws. The script, aided on occasion by Soderberghís performance and character-focused direction, can be self-indulgent (e.g., each character is given a separate introduction, and later, in another scene, repeats the motif, by following each character separately via a zoom-in as they walk across a courtyard, accompanied by suitably uptempo music from David Holmes, who scored Oceanís Twelve), but its greatest faults lie in the lack of a strong villain or antagonist for Danny Ocean and his crew, in not creating a sense of physical danger, risk or sustained suspense, and ultimately, in an unimaginative heist sequence that compares poorly against the original.
Oceanís Eleven centered on the planning and execution of a complex, difficult heist, with Soderbergh keeping the audience kept partially in the dark as the unexpected followed the expected. Here, Soderbergh and Nolfi give the central heist minimal attention, focusing more on crosses and double-crosses, as well as on the romantic subplot involving Rusty and Isabel. The Rusty/Isabel subplot, meant to mirror or echo the Danny/Tess romantic subplot in Ocean's Eleven sadly has little of the crackling wit or humor of the original. Soderbergh and Nolfi also pack in easily predictable, rote, and underwritten plot turns into the romantic subplot.Romantic subplot aside, Soderbergh and Nolfi indulge in a patently ludicrous plot turn, meant to give an absent character a central role in the film, while also adding self-reflexive, cleverer-than-thou humor. While the original briefly played with the idea of actors playing fictionalized versions of themselves, there it was treated more as a throwaway gag early in the film. Here, the gag is kept front and center for too long. Focusing on the gag and its implications also sidelines the central characters for an extensive period of time, slowing the filmís narrative momentum and substituting in-jokes for the unforced verbal comedy that preceded it.
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originally posted: 06/27/05 18:38:38