I enjoy Steven Soderbergh’s Ocean’s Twelve for a number of reasons, chief among them how decidedly different it is from Eleven. It’s like they not only chose to set it in Europe, but also to stylistically change the glib, cavalier Vegas aesthetic for an oddball, impenetrable Euro vibe that’s a lot weirder and more dense this time, and as such we have fun in a new fashion than the first. There’s also not just the laser focus of one singular, do or die heist but rather a string of robberies, betrayals and loose subplots flung around like diamonds, as well as a few cameos buried like Faberge Easter eggs. Good old Terry Benedict (Andy Garcia) has tracked down Danny Ocean (George Clooney), Tess (Julia Roberts), Rusty (Brad Pitt) and their merry band of thieves across the pond to Europe, and he wants his money back from their epic Bellagio/Mirage/MGM Grand heist. This sets in motion an impossibility intricate, knowingly convoluted series of mad dash heists and classy encounters with the finest arch burglars Europe has to offer, including legendary thief the Night Fox (Vincent Cassel) and hilarious fence Eddie Izzard in full fussy mode. Everyone from Danny’s original team returns, from the scene stealing, cigar devouring Elliott Gould to the bickering brothers Casey Affleck and Scott Caan. Hell, even Topher Grace as himself is back, and that gigantic Vegas tough guy that fake brawled with Clooney the first time turns up for a spell. There’s fresh faces abound too, including sultry Catherine Zeta Jones as a cunning Interpol agent who’s on to their trail, no thanks to Pitt who happens to be dating her. Oh, and how about the surprise cameo which I won’t spoil except to say it’s tied into another pseudo cameo that’s so ingenious it can’t be explained, you just gotta see it. To be honest, the whole heist plot is one fabulously befuddled bag of nonsense, tomfoolery and monkeyshines, made no clearer with flashbacks, gimmicks, ulterior motives and cinematic trickery until we’re left wondering what in the fuck exactly happened. More so in Twelve though it’s about the journey, and not the destination, whereas Eleven made it clear that sights were set on completing that heist with dedicated tunnel vision. Here one is reminded of a bunch of Italians sitting around having coffee and chatting amongst themselves while they’re late for a meeting; they’ll get there eventually, but right now all that matters is how good the conversation and camaraderie is. Speaking of sitting around and talking, my favourite scene of the film is with Danny, Rusty, Matt Damon’s Linus and Robbie ‘Hagrid’ Coltrane, who plays an underworld contact. They’re sat in a Paris cafe talking, and they use nothing but a nonsense gibberish vernacular that seems to make sense to them all but Damon, but probably doesn’t to any of them, but the key is that they all remain cool, bluff each other out and have fun. That sums up the film in one aspect, a breezy blast of silliness that shouldn’t be examined too hard, but rather enjoyed at a hazy distance with a glass of fine wine. Good fun all round.
I’ve seen Steven Soderbergh’s Ocean’s Eleven so many times I couldn’t count on the hands I have, or all twenty two of those attached to the gaggle of slick, fast talking lounge rats who pull of the most laidback, easygoing casino heist in Vegas history. Most heist flicks have a breathless cadence and at least one high powered action sequence. Not this baby. It’s like the weekend R&R of robbery films, the classy brunch of crime stories. Hell, even Heat, as hypnotic and subdued as it was, had gunplay here and there. It’s in that refusal to get its hands dirty, the insistence on a relaxed, pleasant vibe that has made it the classic it is today. George Clooney and Brad Pitt are iconic now as ex jailbird Danny Ocean and fast food enthusiast Rusty, two seasoned pros who plan to take down tycoon Terry Benedict (Andy Garcia, looking and sounding more constipated than a police commissioner at a 420 rally) and his three giant casinos. To do this, they round up the most eclectic bunch of scoundrels this side of the wild bunch, including fussy, flamboyant businessmen Elliot Gould, slick card shark Bernie Mac (“might as well call it white jack!”), twitchy techie Eddie Jamison, dysfunctional petty thief Matt Damon, eternally squabbling wheelmen brothers Casey Affleck and Scott Caan, acrobatic guru Shaobo Qin, rowdy safecracker Don Cheadle (with a piss poor attempt at a cockney accent, I might add) and grizzled grifter Carl Reiner. Oh, and a sultry Julia Roberts as Danny’s ex wife, because no caper flick would be complete without the high stakes and charm of a woman involved. What a pack. The logistics and steps of their plan have a labyrinthine feel to them, especially the sheepish twist that seems just easy enough to work and just far-fetched enough to earn friendly chuckles. Soderbergh did his own cinematography for this, which explains why the vision here is so singular and unforgettable; he shoots Vegas like a subdued nocturnal dreamscape full of fountain soaked vistas, dazzling light displays and ornate casino floors, and directs his actors with all the lithe, cordial and cucumber cool personas of the born n’ bred Vegas characters you can spot whilst on vacation there. Ebert wrote of this, “Serious pianists sometimes pound out a little honky-tonk, just for fun.. this is a standard genre picture, and Soderbergh, who usually aims higher, does it as sort of a lark.” Oh, Roger. This is my main pet peeve with film criticism and analysis: the distinct differentiation between ‘genre fare’ and ‘high art’, a snooty attitude that devalues both forms and axes a rift into a medium that at the end of the day, is all storytelling. Some of Soderbergh’s best films (this, Out Of Sight and last year’s Logan Lucky) are exercises in storytelling without the burden of subtext or lofty behind the scenes ambition, and are somewhat the better for it. Rant over. In any case, this is style, charm, wit and lovable caper shenanigans done just about as best as they could, and remains one of my favourite films of this century so far.
People rag on What’s The Worst That Could Happen all the time. Let em, and screw em while we’re at it. Implausible? Yes. Silly? Yup. Ridiculous? Oh yes. Funny? You bet your ass. It’s one of those lighthearted Martin Lawrence comedies like Blue Streak or National Security, tripping along an alleyway of lowbrow humour and bawdy antics that you just can’t stay mad at, like a friend who does something really dumb and follows up with something that cracks a grin on your face. Lawrence also has the luck to be paired with Danny Devito here, who is funny even when he isn’t trying to be. Lawrence plays Kevin, a cocky cat burglar who bungles the wrong dude when he breaks into the not so vacant summer home of sleazy billionaire Max Fairbanks (Devito). Max catches him red handed, holds him at gunpoint and convinces the cops that a family heirloom ring on Kevin’s finger is part of the stolen goods, adding insult to arrest. That dick move launches an ego fuelled battle of wills as these two morons find more and more elaborate ways to incite each other’s wrath. They each have a little armada who back them up when they aren’t questioning their every idiotic movie. Kevin has his gorgeous girlfriend (Carmen Ejogo has sadly made a career of being underused), his partner Berger (John Leguizamo plays around with accents like you ain’t never seen) who is the Dumber to his Dumb, and his sassy handler (Bernie Mac). Max is hounded by his witchy wife (Nora Dunn), shunned by his much abused attorney (a dry, delightful Richard Schiff), pawned over by his mistress (Glenne Headly) and secretly lusted for by his chief of security (you haven’t lived until you’ve seen Larry Miller do his thang here). Max and Kevin are engaging arch enemies, with Lawrence mugging for face time a tad too much, and Devito perfectly settled into his shtick as always. I must make note of probably the best performance of the film, from William Fichtner as a flamboyantly gay police detective who hounds all parties involved. He’s one part frightening with a side of classy charm, subverting his usual weirdo tough guy image for something even weirder and totally out there. Watch for Lenny Clarke and Siobhan Hogan as as pair of squabbling fellow burglars, and work from Cam Neely, Kevin Chapman and Garry Shandling as well. It’s a screwball caper. I love it. Many don’t. They can suck it. Check ‘er out and make up your own mind.
As silly, gaudy and drawn out the Ocean’s franchise had gotten by its third outing, I still somewhat enjoyed Ocean’s Thirteen, an overblown attempt to keep the magic alive that most of the time trips over its own bells and whistles. That being said, the gang is all there, and that alone is good for some laughs. This time around, Eliott Gould’s cranky charmer Reuben has been ousted from his Vegas property by Willie Bank (Al Pacino) a ruthless and ludicrously rich casino tycoon with big plans for the future. Reuben is left in a dazed depression, and the gang all drifts back together to try and rob the hell out of Pacino, using methods and cons so over the top they almost seem like a parody of the former films. Pacino is a bit more clownish than Andy Garcia’s grim Terry Benedict was in the first film, which adds to the cavalier absence of any sense of real danger. In fact, Benedict is now chummy with the gang himself, which is a cute turn of events but kind of seems to silly. Ellen Barkin adds a lot of class as Pacino’s head honcho, fitting into the Ocean world nicely. The gang I’d all back and more eccentric than ever, with Matt Damon scoring comedic points in one of the funniest prosthetic jobs I’ve ever seen. Newcomers to the show include Julian Sands, Oprah Winfrey and a reliably hapless David Paymer. It’s not that this one takes the formula too far, it’s just that we’ve been there, done that, got the t-shirt and there was really not much need for it. I won’t say no though, because the blue print of what made the first so fun is still there, it’s just been jazzed up and adorned with a few too many gilded sequins and fancy jib jab. Still enjoyable.