With Ocean's Eleven, Steven Soderbergh practically stumbled into an Old-Hollywood movie. Loose-limbed camerawork nothwithstanding, Ocean's Eleven wielded an all-star cast, a zesty heist-movie script, and fast-paced energy, capped with a wistful movie-magic resolution and a smilin' coda which handily trounced anything in the clunky Rat Pack original. Ocean's Twelve superficially matches its immediate predecessor, by rounding up the usual suspects--and adding a few well-known faces--for another caper. But the revisit of the first film's shtick isn't nearly as warm, nimble, or fun as one might expect.
As promised, bad-guy Benedict (Andy Garcia) hunts down the Twelve with a stark demand: "my money or your life." In order to pay back what they owe, reasons Ocean (George Clooney), they'll simply have to pull another job. So it's off to Rome, where their best laid plans run afoul of a thief savant known as the Night Fox and a Europol agent (Catherine Zeta-Jones), who's also the ex-girlfriend of Brad Pitt's Rusty. The original Eleven all take part, including top-billed Matt Damon and Julia Roberts, who for posterity mocks her own celebrity pregnancy. The cast is the film's only real asset, and it's not to be underestimated; Damon, however, is the only one to develop his characterization. Robbie Coltrane, Eddie Izzard, and Cherry Jones flit through scenes, and Vincent Cassel plays a Eurotrash baddie who picks up—especially by way of an audacious physical display—some of Garcia's slack. Surprise cameos should not come as a surprise.
Soderbergh's creative appropriation of a spec script unrelated to Ocean's Eleven (penned by newcomer George Nolfi) plays like one of those schoolboy projects to build the best vessel to drop an egg without breaking it, except here the egg comes courtesy of Fabergé. Soderbergh devises plenty of clever bits, but his vehicle still comes apart at the seams before it can make a safe landing. Where the first film zipped along too fast for logical second-guessing, Ocean's Twelve too often lumbers, allowing the audience to get ahead of plot twists and spelunk into the cavernous plotholes. The first film's tickling of its celebrity stars was light-hearted; here, Clooney bemoans the ravages of age to good effect, but the lengthy detour into a Julia Roberts hall-of-mirrors is uncomfortably reminiscent of the self-conscious Rat Pack swagger the 2001 Ocean's Eleven so deftly avoided.