Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (December 17, 2014)
By all rights, the 2001 remake of 1960ís Oceanís Eleven should have stunk. Sure, it included a lot of talent, with quite a few Oscar winners both behind and in front of the camera. However, that could have turned into its Achilles heel.
All-star productions often turn out poorly, as all those egos canít work together well enough to create a good ensemble piece. The idea of an update on an old Rat Pack flick didnít sound all that appealing either; it seemed likely the new movie would be a self-conscious and self-indulgent piece of hipster fluff.
To my surprise, Eleven ended up as a minor gem. It never took itself seriously as is told a goofy and endearing tale of a complicated robbery. Audiences agreed, as the flick took in a solid $183 million.
2004ís Oceanís Twelve didnít do quite as well, but its $125 million gross wasnít sneeze-worthy. Nonetheless, thatís a lackluster total given the first oneís success and all the star power on display. Unfortunately, the the dull and plodding Twelve canít recapture the first filmís magic.
Twelve launches with a prologue set ďthree and a half years agoĒ in Rome. Crook Rusty Ryan (Brad Pitt) flees his detective girlfriend Isabel Lahiri (Catherine Zeta-Jones) when it looks like sheíll figure out his profession.
The movie then leaps to ďthree and a half weeks agoĒ in Connecticut, where thief Danny Ocean (George Clooney) tries to settle down into a non-criminal suburban life with wife Tess (Julia Roberts). Clearly the old life still entices him, and matters complicate when her super-rich former flame Terry Benedict (Andy Garcia) - the subject of the first movieís caper - shows up at their house with Tess home alone. Benedict wants back the $160 million Danny and company stole - plus interest - and he gives the crooks two weeks to pay him.
From there, Benedict makes his way through all of the participants in the original heist: pickpocket Linus Caldwell (Matt Damon), pyrotechnician Basher Tarr (Don Cheadle), inside man Frank Catton (Bernie Mac), drivers/general nuisances Virgil (Casey Affleck) and Turk (Scott Caan) Malloy, electronics expert Livingston Dell (Edward Jemison), ďgrease manĒ gymnast the Amazing Yen (Shaobo Qin), retired vet Saul Bloom (Carl Reiner), and former Vegas tycoon Reuben Tishkoff (Elliott Gould). Benedict ends his crusade with a threat against Ryan.
Danny reunites ďOceanís ElevenĒ - most of whom complain about that moniker - to figure out how to deal with this debt. They need a new job right away, but theyíre too well known to work in the US. This sends them to Amsterdam on Ryanís suggestion, but it turns out he has an ulterior motive: Isabel is in Amsterdam, and he wants to reconnect with his old flame.
While in Amsterdam, they meet with Matsui (Robbie Coltrane), an agent who steers them toward various jobs. The first sends them into the home of an agoraphobic and doesnít pay much, but itís a start. However, a criminal mastermind called the ďNight FoxĒ (Vincent Cassel) beats them to it, and the whole situation gets more and more complicated, especially when Isabel comes onto the case.
Why did the Night Fox thwart Oceanís gang? Jealousy. His mentor considers Ocean to be the worldís greatest thief, so the Night Fox wants to establish his own supremacy. He offers Ocean a challenge: whoever steals a particular item first wins, and if itís Ocean, heíll pay off the whole $97 million debt to Benedict. The movie follows the battle of the crooks along with Isabelís attempts to involve herself in the situation.
Eleven was lightning in a bottle and the sequel canít recapture the energy and magic of the original. At its best, Twelve offers decent entertainment, but it never takes off like the first one did.
Maybe itís too much to ask everyone involved to get back into such an unusual circumstance. Eleven was sort of a busmanís holiday, as the folks who made it did the whole thing as something of a lark. They went into it with a relaxed attitude that came through via the light and loose attitude displayed.
On the other hand, Twelve often has the feeling of a contractual obligation. I donít think anyone was truly required to make it, but itís clear there was more at stake this time. The first movie was an expensive party that managed to become a big hit. Of course, it had high expectations given the talent involved, but it didnít look like the participants saw it that way.
I think the stress became more distinct for Twelve. The first flick was a lark, while this one required more effort since all involved had more pressure to succeed.
That seems to weigh on the proceedings, as Twelve never remotely displays the light effervescence of its predecessors. Granted, it gives us a more nuanced character piece that tries to dig into the personalities with greater depth. While Eleven was happy to stay with pop charm, Twelve wants to deal with real emotions and consequences.
Unfortunately, it attempts those elements poorly, partially because it tries to have its cake and eat it too. The movie interconnects mildly dramatic moments with light goofiness and doesnít succeed in either domain. The seriousness lacks heft, and the comedy feels strained and forced.
The drama also flops because we simply donít go to see a movie like Twelve for that kind of material. If I want to watch something serious, Iíll go see Hotel Rwanda. When I check out an Oceanís flick, I want a zippy neo-Rat Pack vibe with sizzle and lather to spare.
That doesnít materialize in the leaden Twelve. Actually, for one brief moment toward the end, the movie manages to almost live up to its potential. I wonít spill all the beans, but it involves an actor essentially playing a character playing that actor, and it also includes a cameo from another major star. The whole thing is almost too clever-clever to work, but it does succeed, and for a few happy moments, the flick turns into something special.
Unfortunately, it soon returns to earth and continues on its dull path. An essential lack of focus definitely harms Twelve. Eleven enjoyed a very basic plot and it prospered largely due to that simplicity. 11 guys put together a heist - that was about it. Yeah, some minor subplots evolved as well, but the movie concentrated on that robbery above all else, and that led us on a concrete path.
On the other hand, Twelve bobs and weaves itself into oblivion. Essentially itís all oriented toward paying off Benedict, but the tale takes so many detours along the way that we get lost. Not only that, but when it tries to right itself, we donít care.
Another problem that stems from the absence of focus relates to the use of the leads. Clooney and Pitt often feel like afterthoughts here, and most of the others donít fare any better. When the movie ended, I thought of Isabel and the Night Fox as the major characters; everyone else seemed like vague support. A sequel that concentrates mostly on two new characters doesnít sound like a good proposition. Maybe this is just my perception and the screen time is more balanced, but the movie sure doesnít make it feel that way.
Admittedly, I think itís good that Oceanís Twelve doesnít simply remake its predecessor. Another story with another big caper might have been tedious. However, itís hard to imagine itíd have been less engaging than this.
Addendum: the review above came from my initial viewing of the film back in 2005. My screening of this Blu-ray was my second time through Twelve, and I must admit I found the flick to be significantly more enjoyable on this occasion. No, itís not as fun as Eleven, but it boasts more verve than I believed back in 2005, and it has a fair amount going for it.
I didnít want to rewrite my entire review, as I feel thatís a form of revisionist history; my comments from 2005 remain valid, even if I now have a different opinion. The old POV certainly wasnít in the minority, as Twelve got a lot more bad reviews than good ones. Nonetheless, I wanted to note that I found a lot more to like from Twelve a few years down the road. Itís still the weakest of the three movies, but itís reasonably entertaining.