More noise than signal

Ocean’s Twelve

This review has been ‘repurposed’ from my other site,

Say the magic words ‘Steven Soderbergh’ round these parts and you be greeted with at best an involuntary shudder, and possibly a tirade of verbal abuse as you’re straying very close to the film which must not be spoken of territory. After that debacle, you’ll have to excuse our apathy concerning this sequel to Ocean’s Eleven, a film that really did not need a sequel. Still with the strong cast returning there was perhaps a glimmer of hope that it’d be a decent film, but this hope is sadly dashed in unspectacular fashion.

Terry Benedict (Andy Garcia) is so perturbed by the loss of his cash in the previous flick that he’s sworn to track down Ocean’s Eleven and make them pay, in the process restyling himself as a cross between a 1920’s fop and pimp-hustlin’ gangsta. Dig the cravat / elaborate silver cane combo, the Mack has truly returned. After a tip off from master thief, millionaire playboy and general gadabout Francois Toulour (Vincent Cassel) he visits the lads and delivers an ultimatum; pony up the cash they stole plus interest in two weeks or face a fate worse than death. Well, a fate of death actually.

Thus, Danny is left no choice but to get his band of criminal cronies together for another heist hindered by Toulour who’s pissed off that Danny’s getting put higher on FIFA’s best thief league or some equally nonsensical codswallop. As with the earlier outing, the point of the film isn’t so much the goal as how the gang get there, and while the first managed to make the journey towards that goal entertaining by dint of some nice character interaction, Twelve loses this completely.

Looking at the cast, this ought to walk to at least ‘pleasantly watchable’ without breaking a sweat. Hell, just put Brad Pitt, Clooney, Don Cheadle (gloriously returning in full on Apples and Pears Cockerney mode but given nearly nothing to do), Matt Damon, Bernie Mac, Carl Reiner and Elliot Gould in a room for two hours and have them talk about the finer points of beekeeping and it would probably be passable entomological entertainment. Managing to use this array of talent to create something that’s never more than pedestrian and frequently quite boring takes some doing, but done it has been.

In dealing with such a large cast, not just the Ocean’s staff but ancillary support from the likes of Robbie Coltrane and Eddie Izzard, there’s a very difficult balance to make and some characters will be sidelined more than others. While understandably the marquee stars Pitt, Clooney, Julia Roberts and Zeta-Jones take the limelight, why give so many lines to the pliable acrobat Yen (Shaobo Qin)? The joke being that he speaks in…Cantonese, I guess, and everyone else speaking English understands him. This is funny once, grating subsequently.

Nothing against the guy, but he serves no purpose in this outing. In fact neither do half of the returning characters, unless they’re required for one of the many loose plot strands that the film abandons midstream. Much of the time Yen, the Malloy brothers and well, everyone else is just wasted screentime because they’re never doing or saying anything particularly interesting. Meanwhile arguably the best actor in the film, Matt Damon, is sitting on the sidelines chomping at the bit to get something interesting to do. It never arrives.

The planning of the heist(s, as it turns out) seems hastily skipped over which is perhaps just as well, as Soderbergh throws in a desperation twist at the end which is utterly, utterly nonsensical and the sort of thing we’d get really angry about were there anything else in the film worthy of getting worked up about. While they’ve almost become a standard feature of every film these days, at least when a well thought out twist is applied and things suddenly fit better than they did before it gives some satisfaction. Rotten as M. Night Shamalamadingdong’s later outings became the revelations in The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable produced a pleasing ‘Aaaah!’ factor. Ocean’s Twelve gives more of a ‘Eh?’ factor, as it renders the central plot thrust null and void, or at best a silly game. Bah.

I get the distinct impression that Soderbergh and everyone else involved treat this as something of a holiday from making proper films, an excuse to hang out together at night with the day job phoned in, almost. No-one’s actively not caring, with the possible exception of an oddly lifeless turn from Garcia, but similarly no-one’s going the extra mile to give their characters any more personality than is derived from the dull script and their own inbuilt charisma. Soderbergh isn’t doing anything clever with his camera either.

Frankly, this is an idea for about a quarter of a film stretched, patched and cobbled into a full feature. The point of making this remains elusive. It’s not needed to tie up loose ends from the first film, it’s not as witty or as well thought out as the first film and it’s not anything like as much fun as the first film. And that last clause is all that’s important, isn’t it?