The creation of great film sequels seems to come from a want to produce them, not from a need. The general critical reception of Steven Soderbergh’s 2001 remake of the Rat Pack caper “Ocean’s Eleven” was that it was fun and slick but by no means a masterpiece. “Ocean’s Twelve” (Warner Bros.) was created out of necessity or obligation, not out of inspiration or whimsy, and the final product suffers as a result.
However difficult the term ‘cool’ is to define, few would disagree with the fact that this was “Ocean’s Eleven’s” greatest strength. It had cool clothes, cool music, cool characters, cool dialogue and a very cool (however improbable) heist. But within minutes of “Ocean’s Twelve’s” opening, all of the thieves have been accosted by Terry Benedict (Andy Garcia), who wants all his money back within two weeks. Before the first act of “Ocean’s Twelve” can begin, the characters we loved have lost the main thing we loved about them in the first place: their coolness.
The same 11 guys who made off with three Las Vegas casinos’ worth of money are now poor saps that have to return their library books with overdue charges. The rulers have become the subjects, and the rest of the film up until the third act feels like a murky refraction of the no-rules spirit of the original; the cool music and clothes are back, but instead of allowing the individual personalities of our goonies to flourish, “Ocean’s Twelve” hollows them out and pushes them through a messy, contrived narrative set up to be a quasi-cool twist ending. Whatever momentum is picked up in the third act is quickly deflated by overwrought melodrama in the subplot of the new Catherine Zeta-Jones character, a romantic foil to Brad Pitt’s Rusty.
All isn’t lost with “Ocean’s Twelve.” David Holmes’ distinctive music compositions do their best to keep the movie afloat. There are brief glimmers of the original’s appeal (the brotherly dynamic between Scott Caan and Casey Affleck, Matt Damon’s aw-shucks novice disposition), and appearances from Robbie Coltrane, Eddie Izzard and Bruce Willis provide nice surprises. But nothing can make up for the absence of “Ocean’s Eleven,” screenwriter Ted Griffin’s musically comic banter or the weakening of our guys. Sequels are supposed to progress, not digress, but this lesson is still one worth learning.
“Ocean’s Twelve” opens in Washington, D.C. Friday.