The movie’s irresistible tagline is “Twelve is the new eleven.” But this twelve is more like the old eleven, the first “Ocean’s 11” movie, starring Frank Sinatra and the Rat Pack, where the chief pleasure is in seeing how much fun the cool guys are having spoofing themselves. Unfortunately, the audience doesn’t have quite as good a time as the guys up on the screen. But that still leaves a lot of fun to spread around. And a lot of cool.
In contrast to the high-gloss style of the first one, the sequel is shot in an informal, slightly gritty, almost documentary style. It starts off well, briskly bringing us up to date on what has been going on with each of the eleven who robbed three Las Vegas casinos in one night. The man they robbed, Terry Benedict (Andy Garcia), has tracked them all down, from Danny Ocean (George Clooney) and his wife, Tess (Julia Roberts) on down to the bickering Molloy brothers (Scott Caan and Casey Affleck). And he gives them two weeks to pay it all back, with interest.
That means it’s time to go back to work. They pull off a quick heist in Amsterdam, but it turns out to be the first step in a much larger job, the usual irreplaceable treasure in the usual impenetrable setting.
There is a complication, too — they are competing with the most successful thief in the world, a fabulously wealthy and remarkably agile Frenchman with a title who has a personal reason for making sure they are not successful. There is another complication as well. Rusty (Brad Pitt) has a romantic entanglement with Isabel (Catherine Zeta Jones), an Interpol agent whose job is catching thieves.
The problem is that the movie counts too much on having us on the side of the thieves because of the first film and just because we love the performers. But it works against our loyalty by violating the first rule of heist movies — without giving away too much, I’ll just say that the resolution is not entirely satisfying. The motivation of one of the key characters is just silly. The twists are telegraphed in advance.
According to press reports, the gang wanted to work together again (especially if it meant hanging out in Rome, Amsterdam, and France) and so they grafted their characters onto another script. The seams show; they even pop at times, as when a bunch of the characters have to be waylaid before the big day just because the original script didn’t have enough things for everyone to do. Oceans Eleven had great characters and a very clever plot with a heist that had you saying “Oh, THAT’S how they did it” on the way back to your car. This one has great characters and a thin plot that gets stretched even thinner. On the way back to your car you’ll be talking about whether the popcorn was stale because if you try to untangle the plot, you’ll regret it.
Better to skim across the top of it, as the performers do, and enjoy the sly by-play from the returning players, including a witty cameo by Topher Grace and a quick appearance with Scott L. Schwartz as Bruiser. The heists themselves are not much, but it is hilarious to see the gang take time to discuss whether it’s fair to call the group “Ocean’s Eleven” when they are independent contractors or when Matt Damon as Linus explains, like a shy candidate for “The Apprentice” that he wants to assume more of a leadership role this time.
Eddie Izzard and Robbie (Hagrid) Coltrane are a pleasure, as always, in small roles. Catherine Zeta Jones and some surprise new additions are fine but it’s our old friends who, true to form, well, steal the show, with dialogue as cool and contrapuntal as a jazz riff.
Parents should know that the film has a few bad words and some mild, non-explicit sexual references. Characters drink and smoke and of course most of the movie’s heroes are thieves and liars who joke about not having any morals.
Families who see this film should talk about why it is hard for Danny to give up being a thief. Why are Tess and Isabel drawn to men who do not tell the truth? Why are movie audiences drawn to them? What matters to each of the eleven? What would you do if you had $16 million?
Families who enjoy this film will also enjoy both of the earlier films and other heist classics like The Italian Job, Topkapi, and To Catch a Thief.