Director: Steven Soderbergh (The Girlfriend Experience, Traffic, Che, Bubble, Full Frontal, Sex Lies and Videotape, The Informant!)
Writer: George Nolfi (Timeline, The Sentinel)
Producer: Jerry Weintraub
Starring: Clooney, Pitt, Cheadle, J. Roberts, Mac, Gould, Garcia, Damon, S. Caan, C. Affleck, Zeta-Jones
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Running time: 125 min.
Steven Soderbergh has been my absolute favorite living director for some time now. It seems that in my eyes, everything he touches shines like the contents of Marsellus Wallace’ briefcase. So it’s always been with some trepidation that I bring up the only title in his filmography that I’ve always regretted watching: the second in his “Ocean’s” franchise: Ocean’s 12. The last time I had seen the picture was when it was released theatrically back in 2004. I remember being quite upset as I left the theater; not really understanding what I’d just seen and being a little miffed at why it wasn’t nearly as good as the previous film. I’ve been bad mouthing the film ever since without ever giving it a second look. Having matured in my cinematic tastes and now better able to understand where and why the visceral reactions come from me the way they do from a film, I decided it was only fair to give the only dark spot in my Soderbergh repertoire of knowledge a second chance and see if my memory serves or if this was just a film I didn’t get at the time.
This sequel starts off just about where the previous left off. Terry Benedict (Andy Garcia) has located the Ocean gang and has given them two weeks to return all of the money they stole from him or they will die horrible, slow deaths by his hand. Since much of the money has been spent already and the crew is too hot to work in the States, to save their necks they head off to Europe to start a series of heists designed to make back the money they had already squandered. Upon arriving in Europe, they find that another thief, The Night Fox (Vincent Cassel), is always one step ahead of them; stealing what they want before they do. And to make matters even more intolerable and desperate, an American investigator (Zeta-Jones) is hot on their tale and unknowingly closer to them than she realizes as she is involved in a romance with the Brad Pitt character. The tale twists as The Night Fox proposes a challenge to the Ocean’s: snag an “impossible to steal” jeweled egg before he does and he’ll win their freedom from Benedict. And so the caper begins… sort of.
**SPOILERS TO FOLLOW**
**SPOILERS TO FOLLOW**
Every aspect of this film is simply trying too hard. If I were told to write a one sentence review, “trying too hard” would be exactly what I would put on the paper. It’s really as simple as that. For starters, we’ll begin with the dialogue. Though difficult to put a finger on precisely why this dialogue feels strained and forced, nevertheless, it is. Every character feels like a shell of themselves from the previous film. The wit is not funny, the sarcasm is boring and the banter borders on annoying. I feel like Soderbergh wrote the dialogue in his sleep while dreaming about the first film. But this time, he added deadly serious stakes to the mix, which creates tension; removing all of the fun factor and just adding dread.
The locales. Since the movie doesn’t take place in Vegas this time around, all of the sparkle and pizzazz is gone. We’re left with cold, drab locales that aren’t even charming or historic in that old-world, comforting way (like they are in something like Paris je’Taime). They’re simply washed out, gray and boring with no attention to detail or character. In most films that wouldn’t bother me – in fact I might even appreciate it (Ronin) – but when you’re trying to have a big, flashy, caper film with all of the big names speaking in splashy and quirky dialogue from the first movie, one is just left feeling empty and not caring. It might as well have taken place in Lincoln, Nebraska.
Aesthetics. This sort of rides side by side with the previous paragraph, but put simply, the movie just doesn’t look good. The compostion is cluttered, boring and drab. The set pieces are generic and look like props any low budget film could get their hands on. Look at the following images and you get a good idea of what pretty much the entire picture looks like: unimpassioned and gloomy.
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The music. It’s loud, bombastic and to use my fallback adjective for this review again, annoying. It’s used as filler much of the time and adds no sense of style to the movie like it did before. It’s the same type of music, but every time it’s used here, it’s only in a dismal or disastrous situation for our characters that we’re just not feeling much sympathy for at this point. I was actually forced to turn down my theater’s receiver; cutting the volume literally in half in order to get through a couple of these extended montages of annoyance and unnecessity that just seem to needlessly drag on forever.
The acting. Each actor (with the exception of Vincent Cassel and Matt Damon) is completely phoning in their performance. They all got to get on a party plane and head to Europe for a few weeks under the studio’s dime simply to have a good time and sort of shoot a movie while they’re there. And it shows. In fact, I would wager that some of the actors didn’t even want to be there (Carl Reiner, Elliot Gould, Bernie Mac) as evidenced by their lack of screen time and characterization within the script. As an example, take a look at the character of Basher, played by Don Cheadle. In the first film his expertise is needed and he is full of sarcasm and dry humor. Here, though he looks the same and has the same accent, you’d swear it isn’t him. It’s as if he’s actually a replicant on/in Solaris. Why is he even there? What purpose does he serve? He spray paints a security camera at one point. All but gone too, is the bickering, dynamic duo of Scott Caan and Casey Affleck. It’s used once or twice just to be there. It isn’t fun or interesting or particularly meaningful as it is in the other films. And it’s not just these three characters. It is all of them. At one point in the film, Brad Pitt says to George Clooney, “We’re forcing it.” To which Clooney replies, “yeah, we’re forcing it.” This is the entire movie’s premise in a nutshell.
The script. Leaving aside the lameness of the relationship strain between Pitt and Zeta-Jones that worked so well (both in chemistry and narrative) in the first movie between Clooney and Roberts, the story is unabashed wankery defined. The heists make no sense and in a couple of scenes I didn’t even understand what was happening. Or it happened so fast that I ended up shaking my head and trying to gauge whether or not I had just dozed off and missed a few minutes. You’re going to raise an entire building a couple of feet so you can shoot an arrow inside only to find out someone else already did it a few minutes ago? Ok, whatever. And I can’t not mention the stupidity of a side-side-plot involving the greatest thief of all time (played by Albert Finney) who turns out in the very very end (in the most ridiculous of coincidental twists) to be the father of Zeta-Jones’ character – who has devoted her life to becoming one of the world’s greatest heist detectives. Their reunion is unbelievably contrived and strained. Is this supposed to be an amazing coincidence or is it supposed to be retarded? Because it is most certainly the latter. Are we supposed to be welling up with emotion and thinking, “aww isn’t that sweet?” Well no, it’s not sweet. It’s lame, annoying and vomit inducing.
This is the closest Soderbergh has ever come to duplicating a Michael Haneke picture. There are so many red herrings laid out and so much (as it turns out) needless bumbling about and audience poking that I just felt gypped by the end of the movie. Pretty much everything we see in the last 85 minutes of the movie is only there to dupe the audience. As we find out in the end, the characters already stole the jeweled egg before The Night Fox even offered up the challenge. Believable. So everything that happens in the entire premise of the movie is just an act. This makes about as much sense as an epileptic building a bonfire in the nude. Why, while in total seclusion, would these guys continue on with the charade? It’s like the ultimate in method acting. Are they doing it only to convince themselves that they’re on a heist to be believable as possible? No, they’re doing it because otherwise there would be no movie to string along an audience with.
Tangent. Now, to give some credit, due to a certain plot twist this act has to be amped up and tweaked in a humorous way in which Tess Ocean (played by Julia Roberts) pretends to be a movie star named Julia Roberts in a ruse to get closer to the target. You can see this coming from a mile away but I remember it being the one thing I liked about the movie in my first viewing. And you know what, I liked the idea this time around as well (which also introduces Bruce Willis as himself to give the sequence even a little more star power and intrigue). But as I dissect the film here, though I do like the idea and I think it’s played out well and it is kind of fun (and funny), now I realize that it’s only there as a smoke screen to cover up the fact that the rest of the movie is terrible. So now I’m thinking I don’t like this sequence as much as I thought I did since it’s being used merely as a clever gimmick (continued in the closing credits) to distract me.
The entire spectacle is all just one big charade. The problem is that the audience is not in on it. The charade is played out so that we’re the ones being conned. We don’t even get to along for the ride during the caper. Worse, how they did it is spoon fed to us during a poorly shot and convoluted recap with no dialogue in about 4 minutes. And cue the forementioned annoying and loud music. If you like being fucked with and you see the genius behind the curtain when realizing that at the end of the movie you were totally duped, then yeah, this movie might work for you. And had the other two movies in the franchise not existed, maybe that would be my reaction as well. Look, I’m all for Soderbergh’s experimentation. I love those types of films from him (Schizopolis, Full Frontal, The Good German, etc.), but when the rules of a franchise are already laid out (particularly in retrospect after the third film was released), bending those rules and completely dismissing what you previously promised your audience is unfair and not amusing. You’ve only succeeded in confusing and stupefying me; and pissing me off a little bit too.
I don’t want to say I hate this movie, but I’m really struggling to find much I enjoyed. It has some moments. Cassel ballet/break-dancing his way through a sequence of randomly moving laser alarms being one of them and of course despite the crappy dialogue and the sub-par acting that we’ve come to expect from this crew, nevertheless it is still Pitt, Clooney, Cheadle, Affleck, Mac, et. al. and that still does work on some level, but all in all one has to look at this movie and see the inadequacies, laziness and frankly, ineptitude and wonder what Soderbergh was thinking here. I truly believe he really wasn’t thinking; and that’s the problem. It was merely an excuse to grab a huge paycheck, have some fun abroad and try an experiment. It’s the only experiment from Soderbergh that I find to be a total failure. And that more than anything else is what pisses me off.