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2004-12-16 / Arts & Entertainment

Heist Caper Sequel Is “Too Frequently Stagnant”

(L-R) George Clooney, Eddie Jemison, Bernie Mac, Elliott Goud, Scott Caan, Carl Reiner, Shaobo Qin, Brad Pitt, Casey Affleck, Don Cheadle and Matt Damon. ©2004 Warner Brothers By Christy Lemire

AP Movie Critic

When, oh when, will men ever learn that size doesn’t matter?

The ads for “Ocean’s Twelve” proclaim, albeit in a coolly understated way, that “Twelve is the new eleven.”

But bigger isn’t necessarily better. Under the direction once again of Steven Soderbergh — whose 2001 remake of “Ocean’s Eleven” was such a giddy, fizzy thrill — nouveau Rat Packers George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, et al., return for more heists, in more countries, in more foreign languages and with more celebrity cameos.

While the first film featured a robbery of three Las Vegas casinos on a single night — a funny idea for its sheer implausibility, and for Clooney’s impenetrable confidence in pulling it off as crew chief Danny Ocean — the gag here is that this fantastically good-looking band of thieves has several jobs planned across Europe, all of which fall apart for various reasons.

It’s hard not to want to applaud Soderbergh and screenwriter George Nolfi for trying to be innovative, since the usual point of a heist movie is watching the criminals plan the heist, then watching them put their plan in motion.

What they’ve come up with, though, is a film that’s, surprisingly, heavy on its feet, despite the abundance of hand-held cinematography reminiscent of Soderbergh’s “Traffic.”

It does have its share of clever mo-ments, and often bursts with the stylized cool of the Beastie Boys’ “Sabo-tage” video. And basking in the white-hot glow of this star-studded cast certainly isn’t a bad way to kill two hours. But “Ocean’s Twelve” is too frequently stagnant.

At the film’s start, casino king Terry Benedict (Andy Garcia) tracks down all 11 members of Ocean’s team and demands his $160 million back, with interest. They’re in West Hollywood, Calif.; Provo, Utah; East Orange, N.J.; and everywhere in between. Ocean, remarried to his ex-wife and Benedict’s former girlfriend, Tess (Julia Roberts), is living a quiet little existence in suburban Connecticut. But he reassembles his crew for a series of robberies to repay Benedict by his two-week deadline.

They include right-hand man Rusty Ryan (Pitt), who now owns the ultra-hip Standard hotel in L.A.; pickpocket Linus Caldwell (Damon), who wants more responsibility; and explosives expert Basher Tarr (Don Cheadle), now a music producer who doesn’t understand the need to bleep out expletives (though Soderbergh does, in a well-timed recording-studio scene).

Others who figured more prominent-ly the first time around don’t get nearly as much to do here. Bernie Mac is woefully underused, and spends too much time in jail. Elliott Gould shows up in a couple of tacky outfits but doesn’t get as many memorable lines.

In their place are new actors, in-cluding Vincent Cassel as a French thief known as the Night Fox, who thwarts all of Ocean’s plans; and Catherine Zeta-Jones as Isabel, a de-tective chasing after Ocean and his crew, who happens to be Rusty’s ex-girlfriend and the daughter of an internationally renowned criminal herself. (Strangely, the normally glamorous Catherine resembles “Charlie’s Angels” era Kate Jackson with her subdued chin- length ‘do.)

Then there are the many cameos, which can be good for a laugh though they tend to wallow in insiderism. Topher Grace returns from the original as a slacker version of himself and admits to Rusty, “I totally phoned in that Dennis Quaid movie,’’ referring to “In Good Company,’’ which isn’t even in theaters yet.

The biggest of these involves the person who’s perhaps the film’s big-gest star — Roberts — poking fun at herself by playing Tess but pretending to be the real (and very pregnant) Julia Roberts to help steal a Faberge egg. So when Bruce Willis runs into her in a Rome hotel lobby and asks, “Where’s Danny?” the question has double mean-ing, since that’s the name of her husbands both on screen and off.

In these feverishly celebrity-obsessed times, though, most people in the audience will get the joke — and they’ll probably also know the names of the twins Roberts recently gave birth to, which she was carrying during the film-ing of “Ocean’s Twelve” this summer.

“Ocean’s Twelve” is rated PG-13 for language. Running time: 120 minutes.

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