Ocean’s Twelve (2004) — A thoroughly sloppy sequel

“Protect your fake baby, protect your fake baby!”

Drew’s rating: The boys are back in town

Drew’s review: It seemed like the perfect formula: take one old, bad Rat Pack movie. Replace Frank, Dino and Sammy with Clooney, Pitt and Damon. Make it clever and funny and exciting, rather than just letting star power drive it. Allow a true sense of fun and camaraderie between the actors to shine through to the audience. Mix in liberal amounts of clever dialogue and “Made you look!” plot twists. And when it makes a killing and everyone and their mothers are demanding a sequel… well, give them one!

In the interest of not giving away any big surprises in this review, let’s stick with a bare-bones plot outline, shall we? Three years after the Bellagio heist, someone has broken Rule #1 of the Thief’s Code (pffft… where’s the honor?), finking out the names and locations of Ocean’s Eleven to Terry Benedict (Garcia). With surprising restraint, he offers them an alternative to death: Return all of his money, with interest, within two weeks. Duly motivated but too hot to work in the US, the team goes abroad to Amsterdam to find work. But between dodging Rusty’s detective ex (Zeta-Jones, who can slap cuffs on me anytime… rowrr!) and running afoul of legendary thief Night Fox, will the gang have time to plan, bicker, eat, confuse the hell out of Linus, and still manage to survive the ordeal? (Hint: it ain’t called Ocean’s Twelve: The Final Chapter.)

The reason the movie succeeds, at least in my mind, is because it does what a good sequel should — that is, it changes just enough to keep us guessing at the new plot twists, but leaves in all the snappy quips, stylish plans, and stars-making-fun-of-themselves that we loved about the original. Clooney obsessing about looking 50 is a great touch, even if every woman in the world wants him anyway, and the group’s disgruntlement over actually being referred to as “Ocean’s Eleven” (“I’m a private contractor!”) is hilarious. And without giving too much away, let’s just say that Julia Roberts’ role in the movie is truly inspired. It won’t work for everyone — I’ve talked to people who felt it hurt their enjoyment and immersion in the movie — but for those it does, it’s a really fun scene.

If I have any complaint about the movie, it’s that while the first film could easily have stood alone and ended the characters’ stories there, this one is pretty clearly being set up for another sequel. The girlfriend reminded me that it must be hard to get all those big names together at once and suggested maybe they’re looking to spin Linus off into his own movie; and yeah, I could see that. But I just don’t think it would be nearly as much fun without the gang all there — half the enjoyment of Eleven and Twelve was in seeing these movie stars meet, hang out, and poke fun at each other like regular people. It’s what makes us willing to forgive the inevitable plot holes… and since I tend to be less nitpicky about that kind of thing than some, I’m not sure I’d recommend ditching any important members of the cast in future ventures. Just a thought.

Okay, I lied, there’s a couple other things that irked me. The change of heart one character has near the end of the movie rang a little hollow — I can appreciate how the filmmakers tried to do everything possible to make it a plausible reversal, but it still felt pretty abrupt. (But then, I had similar qualms about the first one, too.) And let’s face it, the daughter of a thief who becomes a police officer to redeem her family name is SUCH a cliché… a fun one sometimes, but a cliché nonetheless. Plus, this isn’t exactly a complaint, but the movie’s even more complex than the first one, and you really do need to see it more than once. I’ve been going over it in my head for a while and I think I have most of the double blinds and plot twists sorted out, but there are a couple that I’m still a bit leery about. (At what point did Linus make the call for assistance? And was it part of the plan or not?)

As I mentioned earlier, sequels are a tricky business, because it seems like everyone wants something different. Change too much, half the fans will accuse you of losing sight of what made the original a success; don’t change enough, and the other half will lambaste you for simply rehashing old ideas. There’s no pleasing everybody, but Ocean’s Twelve does a nice job of treading the line, neither radically overhauling the formula nor giving you exactly what you think you want. In my experience, that usually makes for a good follow-up to a good movie, and this one is no exception. Get a crew of your own together and enjoy.

Justin’s rating: … (yeah, is that funny to you?)

Justin’s review: There are a lot of bad movies that get released each year, and like days where it rains, sleets AND snows on your drive to work, you just shrug, mumble and get used to it. Stuff happens. But the egregious sin is when a movie that’s supposed to be good, supposed to be worthy is released, and it’s a failure. Watered down. Lacking. Leftovers. A complete waste. That’s when you feel betrayed almost in a completely self-centered, personal level.

When Drew e-mailed me his review to Ocean’s Twelve, I opened it with a gleeful smile. Having seen the film a week prior with my brother and our respective female captors, I was looking forward to someone lambasting this colossal disappointment and happily beating me to the punch. But that’s not what happened. Everyone’s entitled to their own opinions about all movies, but when you feel strongly about a film — good or bad — you want to read reviews that match your opinions. To read something from the completely opposite standpoint is jarring and unnerving. I had to suck my thumb for a good hour to recover. And hey, I completely know that everyone reading any of my reviews is going to have a serious disagreement sooner or later. The hate mail I received from Kill Bill Vol. 2 alone…

Silly as it may sound, as a Mutant Reviewer I can’t feel this strongly about how poor of a film Ocean’s Twelve is without giving Drew’s review a counterpoint. It’s a duty of mine (if that doesn’t sound completely pretentious) that I need to speak up when I think someone’s called a movie completely wrong on our site — and the duty of the other staff too, and many of them have countered my own reviews. Fair ‘nuff. But remember, I’m the only staff member who can honestly say I’ve never sniffed glue on a regular basis. Take that as you will.

Why Ocean’s Twelve failed so spectacularly is 70% expectation based on the excellent Ocean’s Eleven, and 30% general sloppiness all around. Taken completely on its own, O12 would be a forgettable, drawn-out heist flick. Taken as the sequel to the immensely enjoyable and slick O11, it’s a slap in the face to everything that worked great the first time. Same director, same cast (mostly), same basic setup. And completely different results.

At the end of Ocean’s Eleven (spoiler), the “good” guys got away with $160 million of “evil” casino owner Terry Benedict’s (Andy Garcia) money. While they know they’re being followed, the good natured heroes are carefree, knowing that their smarts will keep them a step ahead of bad pain at all times.

Oh, the assumptions. Oh, the pain, the pain of it all!

Apparently, not so much. Ocean’s Twelve picks up a few years later when Benedict has finally managed to hunt down these not-so-hidden eleven thieves and force them with light intimidation to get his money back with interest. He’s about as threatening as a student loan clerk, now that I think of it. For some reason, everyone else is terrified of him, maybe because of his silk scarf fashion apparel, and promptly agrees to jet over to Europe and start up the whole robbery business again. The whole question of “Why now?” as in “Why is he finally getting around to hunting down these people now when he knew where they were at the end of the first movie?” is never answered.

Ocean’s Twelve is painted with the brush of Long Pauses and Bland Expressions. So many of the characters do these little monotonous speeches and stare deadpan at each other without any specific reason. In the first movie, these things underwrote great, cheeky comedy. In this film, it’s just a shadow puppet trying to trick you into believing you’re supposed to be laughing, when in reality it’s nothing. Just people, sitting, standing, talking without any real soul or timing. We keep expecting the punch line to come, and it usually misses the bus.

It’s hard to believe how they took these same interesting and varied characters from the first film and did absolutely nothing fun or new in the second. George Clooney smirks, Brad Pitt pushes his hands through his hair, Elliott Gould… does nothing, the Chinese guy folds up into a little container, and the two brothers bicker. Even the story, largely lifted from Ocean’s Eleven, is a third-grade iteration of the original plot. The robbery is smaller (ooh, an EGG, how fascinating), the twist is not so twisting, and the new member of the troupe is unclear. Is the twelfth person supposed to be leggy Catherine Zeta-Jones? Because, if so, she does absolutely nothing.

I give credit where they earn it, but Ocean’s Twelve’s handful of genuinely funny moments are garishly outweighed by the number of scenes that tried to look stylish but failed (the whole film seems to be processed through the 1970s), or the opportunities passed. It’s a poor, pale imitation when it should’ve been the rightful heir to the throne. Ack. But I’ve had my piece and I’ll let it rest.

Rich’s rating: This review is sponsored by Kid Craft Glue.

Rich’s review: You know, every time I turn my back around here at Mutant Towers, there’s always a fight breaking out. If it’s not Clare, Sue and Lissa arguing about who gets to flip over to the next month on the office Ewan McGregor Official 2005 calendar, it’s Pooly getting mad because Kyle put his hand drawn posters of Avril Lavigne all over the office noticeboard again. And just when I thought I had a moments peace, suddenly Drew is putting salt in Justin’s coffee while Justin is nailing Drew’s office door shut as part of their unending conflict over who was right about Ocean’s Twelve. I guess I picked the wrong week to stop sniffing glue.

Now as a prim and proper English gent I neither condone or involve myself in emotional disputes of any kind. I operate in a world governed only by fact and order and rationality, like some tea drinking Vulcan, and it’s high time this silliness was put to a stop once and for all so I can get back to performing whatever stereotypical English activity you can think of.

So, discerning reader, here’s the real truth about Ocean’s Twelve — unbiased, unbridled, and far more reliable than the two reviews above this one; because as you all know by now, I deal only in FACT.

Ready? Here we go. Ocean’s Twelve is, in no uncertain terms, exactly what every right thinking movie goer should expect from any sequel at all. It’s like the first one, but not as good.

There you have it, nine simple words and a nice comfy fence for me to sit on as I tell you all the things that a wrong with Ocean’s Twelve, while at the same time admitting that I found it fairly enjoyable and will probably watch it again at some point. Like the first one, not as good. Seriously, they should use that quote on the DVD box because it’s the most apt and accurate description I can think of.

Now let’s not mince words here, like Justin there was a lot of things about O12 that I didn’t like. Firstly, the whole ‘we have to give back the money that we stole in the first film’ irritated me almost as much as the ending to Matrix Revolutions in that it retroactively invalidated everything that happened in the previous film. Now, every time I watch Ocean’s Eleven, instead of reveling in their success, I will be looking on with a cynical eye and muttering “You’re gonna have to give it all back, you know…”

However, I’m willing to overlook that transgression — I mean, under the circumstances it must have been hard to contrive a plot that brought all those characters back together. So, we’ll glance distastefully at that but move straight on to the other things I didn’t like.

Firstly, there were some camera directions in there that I just hated, two in particular which stick in my mind. One shot of an aircraft passing overhead coming in to land (which we’ve seen a hundred times in film) is filmed at a 90-degree angle for absolutely no readily apparent reason. I mean, that’s not art. It’s not clever direction. Unless you are a supervillain whose world domination scheme involved putting a crick in the necks of moviegoers around the world, there’s no earthly reason why you would film that shot with the camera tilted on its side. The second transgression of that nature comes when Ocean’s 12 are being lead away to waiting cars. As Linus walks out and is taken to the car, hold on him — then zoom as dramatic music plays. Then Danny comes out. Hold, zoom, dramatic music. Then Rusty, hold, zoom, and so on. By this point we get the point — they are being led away.

But in order to erase any confusion or doubt you might have, we have to see each of the other nine being led away one by one with the same hold-zoom-music combo for what seems like about seven years worth of screen time. It’s not deep, it’s not art, it’s just directorial messing around and it bugs me like nails on a chalkboard.

So far it may look like I’m in Justin’s corner here, but hang on Drew fans, your time will come a little later on. I just have one more point to address which irritated me to the core of my very being until I had an important revelation.

OK, the major downer for me about Ocean’s 12 was exactly the same problem I had with another Andy Garcia starring heist film, Confidence, and that’s the words “Deus Ex Machina.” The writers write themselves into a corner, so what are they gonna do? Well, how about a completely unknowable solution to the problem that comes out of left field like the hand of God Himself and makes everything right again? The writers of Oceans 12 like that idea a lot. Oceans 11, where the scheme had sensible elements that we followed from A to B to C and all fit together nicely, was an ideal heist film. It never left the audience feeling cheated because, just when you thought everything had gone wrong, there was a solution that you’d seen foreshadowed or explained previously that made you go “Ah! Right!” And that was what made it a great heist film.

Oceans 12 didn’t do that. But here is where I flip-flop over to the other side because it was after the film had ended and I was ranting at my girlfriend about it, in the way that always do because I love to express my opinions and she can’t run away without hurting my feelings, that something profound occurred to me. Ocean’s 12 is not, in fact, a heist movie at all. Now don’t be fooled, it looks like one I know, but it’s not. It’s a comedy that just happens to involve some robbers.

If you look at Ocean’s 11, what made people love it, apart from the well written plot, was the comedy interaction between the ensemble cast. When it came to writing Ocean’s 12, what the writers did was play up the comedy interaction at the cost of the “well written plot” element, and as long as you accept that, suddenly the film plays perfectly. No-one expects a comedy to have a seamless plot — they just want it to make them laugh, and Oceans 12 did that to me any number of times. So it’s not a bad film. It’s genuinely amusing all the way through, and while it may not be a patch on its predecessor, there are many ways it can stand on its own merits and tempt you to a second or third watch.

So, does it suck? As a heist film, yes. As a comedy, not at all. Who is right? I am, and Justin and Drew both get 50% for trying hard but not quite getting there.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I am off to solve all world conflicts. Just let me grab my tube of crazy glue first.

Didja notice?

  • Is it just me, or is Andy Garcia putting on some weight?
  • The jokes about The Sixth Sense are great. (But hey, I really did figure it out before the end. No, I swear…)
  • If the laser grid is truly random, how can you plot out a routine for it? Or was that character just able to see 360 degrees at once?
  • The gibberish Linus speaks to Matsui is from the Led Zeppelin song “Kashmir.”
  • Topher Grace, AKA Eric from That 70’s Show, makes a brief cameo as himself, just like in the first one. He talks about “phoning it in” for a Dennis Quaid movie, a reference to In Good Company.
  • If you stay after they name all the big-wigs, there’s a small nod to the first film. Remember how it named the main actors and then said “and introducing Julia Roberts”? Well, in this one, it says “and introducing Tess as Julia Roberts”. [Thanks Ashley]

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