Chapter Two: Ocean's 12
By Brett Beach
December 16, 2009
The screenplay by George Nolfi is really a riff on caper films and sequels, and keeps its tongue firmly planted in cheek at its own ridiculousness. Soderbergh and the cast approach it like professionals comfortable enough to improvise as needed (or perform the dialogue so perfectly off-handed it suggests improvisation) and replace the mugging one would normally expect tied to this material with exquisite underplaying. To see Danny and Rusty over-caffeinated, inebriated and unwillingly up late watching dubbed Happy Days reruns is funny, but the measured faces of Clooney and Pitt carry it over into deadpan delight.
Danny and Tess are kept separated on screen for most of the running time (a good call). The two major scenes they share together towards the end allow the audience to focus on the star quality of Clooney and Roberts rather than any feelings towards the characters. Pitt and Catherine Zeta-Jones step up to the plate as the lovers with a history this time around and their banter has the spark and chemistry and teasing finesse to keep us interested in whether they wind back up with one another. Matt Damon works his boyish charm for all its worth to play the most terminally insecure member of the group and listen for the precise way he sells a line like, "Not enough people. And we don't have the time to train a cat." The end sequence, with everyone reunited (characters or cast, we don't know) is in its own small way as immensely satisfying a close as a similar one David Lynch used to bring Inland Empire to its conclusion.
But I'd like to briefly draw attention back to the two closing credits above and how they encapsulate their films. The first is all straightforward joke and one-level. It's funny but not funny ha ha. The second contains at least one more layer and is both obvious and a stroke of comic profundity.
Perhaps the biggest crime Ocean's 12 committed - in many eyes - was that everyone seemed to be having too much damn fun. This may have been confused with laziness. It's not. I usually quote Ebert but here I turn to the late, great Siskel who would sometimes ask the rhetorical, "Is this film more enjoyable than watching a documentary of the actors eating lunch?" In the case of Ocean's 12, I would have to declare a draw. Big stars, on the big screen, selling big-budget entertainment isn't all that moviedom is about. Not by a long shot. But from what Hollywood routinely gives, the instances where it's successful need to be singled out and applauded. Here, here.
Next week: Let's close out the year with Nic Cage. And Val Kilmer. And some iguanas. Is it really a Chapter Two? I'll do my best to puzzle it all out.