Painstakingly documented via paparazzi telephotography and Access Hollywood dispatches all summer long, the Ocean’s Twelve shoot was, we know by now, a playground of lakefront villas and luxury yachts. Director Steven Soderbergh admits this was precisely the point—he says the idea for a sequel to Ocean’s Eleven, his 2001 heist flick remake and worldwide mega-hit, originated when he was in Rome for a junket and fell in love with the city. Besides being in the spirit of the Rat Pack original (which allowed Frank, Dean, Sammy, et al., to rule the Vegas strip during production), this coolly hedonistic attitude gives Ocean’s Twelve a seductive swagger and, thanks to some fancy footwork by the director and his A-list cast, even permits some self-implicating riffs on the pressures of fame, the difficulty of following up, and the senselessness of attempting an old-school heist—or an old-school heist movie—at this very late stage in the game.
The minor miracle of Ocean’s Twelve—a paid vacation for a bunch of people who don’t need one—is that you never begrudge the film its brazen fabulosity, not least because it’s so inclusive in its revelry: The movie noisily conveys the messy joy of its making, and insists that you have a good time as well. Despite the prevailing haphazardness, there’s a wry, effortless confidence at work—the hallmark not just of Soderbergh’s populist films but also of George Clooney and Brad Pitt’s charm assaults, intermingling here to scarily potent effect. Funnier and sprightlier than Eleven, which exhibited a genial self-consciousness but never thought to challenge the genre textbook, Twelve is committed to not taking itself seriously.
In a scene that amusingly summarizes the film’s blind-chance methodology, Catherine Zeta-Jones’s Interpol investigator, on the trail of Danny Ocean and company, figures out the intended target when she happens to see a poster of a Fabergé egg through her cab window. Ocean’s Twelve makes the most of whatever’s handy—in some cases literally. Producer Jerry Weintraub had a heist script kicking around, hooked Soderbergh up with writer George Nolfi, and Nolfi’s scenario about competing jewel thieves was tailored to become Ocean’s Twelve. The plot has what you might call an improvised quality: Three years after the Bellagio job, Andy Garcia’s fleeced casino owner tracks down Clooney’s Ocean and sets a deadline for the returned stash. Hoping for an easy score or two, the reunited gang—including Pitt’s suave deputy and Don Cheadle’s cockney explosives pro—head to Amsterdam and Rome, learning along the way that they were ratted out by a French master criminal (Vincent Cassel), who challenges Ocean to a “greatest thief in the world” contest.
The glamour factor is swooningly high (Pitt in nipple-hugging gigolo shirts, Zeta-Jones in killer trench-coat-and-stiletto ensembles), and no one is overextended, given the reasonably democratic makeup of the large cast and the parade of juicy cameos: Topher Grace (excellent as always), Cherry Jones, Eddie Izzard, and many more. An expert handler of actors, Soderbergh is also well versed in the construction of stardom. Twelve builds on Eleven‘s awareness of acting as confidence game. As in Full Frontal, albeit to more pungent effect, Soderbergh topples the fourth wall to toy with the notion, likewise advanced in Notting Hill, that a star of Julia Roberts’s stature is always, on some level, playing herself. (Without giving too much away, Roberts gamely responds to the brief spasm of reflexiveness, with help from her Player co-conspirator Bruce Willis.)
Soderbergh gets his Richard Lester freak on a good deal more than in Eleven. Almost as temporally agile as his prismatic thriller The Limey, Ocean’s Twelve is pleasingly fickle, changing tack too often for its clever ideas to sour, or for its lame ones to matter. Glutted with revisionist flashbacks, the film takes shape as a series of hunches and short cuts; whenever it finds itself in a corner, it blithely cheats its way out. In the ultimate mission impossible, Cassel performs a breakdance ballet through crisscrossing security lasers. The sublime absurdity of the sequence is one-upped by Soderbergh and Clooney’s deadpan deflation of the grand-thief competition, which is in turn topped by the hilariously low-tech execution of the big job aboard a moving train. Watching other people’s vacation home movies is rarely this fun. Quick, cheap thrills spiked with a jazzy, retro new wave vibe, Ocean’s Twelve suggests a double issue of Us Weekly guest-edited by the old Cahiers du Cinéma crew.