"OCEAN'S TWELVE" is a movie that knows the deal. The deal, that is, with its audience.
Those putting down money to watch a sequel to "Ocean's Eleven" aren't there because, let's say, they couldn't get into a Royal Shakespeare Company production of "Hamlet" next door. They haven't come for art, or even, if they stopped to think about it, a great movie. They've come to spend enjoyable face time with the stars. And to enjoy the Vegas-y spectacle of these celebrities lightly pretending (with winks, nudges and other Movie Star tics) to be fictional characters.
An inside job: George Clooney, from left, Elliott Gould, Brad Pitt and Don Cheadle in Steven Soderbergh's "Ocean's Twelve," a film that's less about a crime caper than star power and celebrity.
(Bob Marshak -- Warner Bros.)
They want to see George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Julia Roberts, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Matt Damon and those well-known others bantering, joshing and (in the appropriate couplings) kissing. They want the pure pleasure of idle thinking. As in, "Whoa, Julia and George smacking lips. How many other sets of lips, total, have they kissed altogether? What does the father of Julia's twins think of her kissing Clooney? Do actors ever enjoy kissing each other? Do they joke about kissing just before the take? And do they whip out one of those Binaca blasters, just like that soap-opera leading man did in "Tootsie" before subjecting Dustin Hoffman's drag character to a smackeroo?" And so on and so on.
The central premise -- everyone looking to make as much money as possible -- is something most of us can get behind, with the possible exception of Ralph Nader. And the plot's semi-silly twists and turns are simple excuses to produce various crowd-pleasing combinations, including Clooney and Roberts; Pitt and Zeta-Jones (basically copycatting Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway's relationship at the heart of "The Thomas Crown Affair"); and the Ocean team itself, with all its in-house joshing and bantering.
It seems the ruthless Terry Benedict (Andy Garcia) has traced Danny Ocean (Clooney) and all those others who stole from his casino in 2001's "Ocean's Eleven." He plans to kill them all unless they pay back the money (plus interest) they stole. Ocean and company figure they owe a grand total of $97 million. Time to steal big -- real big. Like, abroad. Sound the theme from James Bond. The stars are doing Europe.
As expected, the team (which includes Damon, Don Cheadle, Bernie Mac, Casey Affleck and Scott Caan) face complications: Europol detective Isabel Lahiri (Zeta-Jones) is determined to bring every Oceanite to justice; and there's a French rival (Vincent Cassel) who takes issue with the notion that Danny Ocean might be the world's best heist-master.
Ocean's wife, Tess (Roberts), comes into the story late, when things look very grim for the team. Without giving too much away, Tess's, uh, uncanny resemblance to "the real" Julia Roberts, becomes an integral part of a Plan B exit strategy. All this, ultimately, is directed toward the robbing of the world's most valuable Faberge egg, which is being exhibited in Rome.
In this sprawling oglefest, such things as "narrative" and "story" are remote little abstractions indeed. Director Steven Soderbergh (who also made "Ocean's Eleven") uses the same reality-show looseness he brought to his "K Street" television series. And he pushes the celeb in-joking throughout. When Tess dresses up and pretends to be Julia Roberts, she's spotted by a well-known celebrity who then proceeds to pepper her with questions, which only the real Julia would know. Of course, Tess's nervous reactions are very Julia Roberts. This movie is about the Whos, not the What and Wherefores. And speaking of which, this is a good opportunity to appreciate the amazing features of actor Cassel, whose gaunt face, prominent cheekbones and bright eyes (blue or green? I just recall their glint) suggest a sort of Egyptian tomb-dog intensity. He fits into this all-star collection of tricksters and rogues pretty perfectly.
OCEAN'S TWELVE (PG-13, 130 minutes) -- Contains some obscenity. Area theaters.