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New math: Twelve exceeds Eleven

DAN THOMAS
Dan Thomas
ALL |

The tagline proclaiming “Twelve is the new Eleven” doesn’t do “Ocean’s Twelve” justice: The sequel to “Ocean’s Eleven” exceeds the sum of its parts.Certainly, there were reasons to doubt: I didn’t have high expectations for “Ocean’s Twelve” because I was one of the few people with relatively low esteem for “Ocean’s Eleven.” It was funny and slick, sure, but seemed too clever, too contrived and too polished in comparison with a grittier, grimier, underdog heist flick that I had just seen – “Confidence.”

In hindsight, it reminds me of nothing so much as last year’s NBA Finals: Steven Soderbergh and his Hollywood all-stars struggle to find chemistry as f-bomb-dropping journeymen Ed Burns and Paul Giamatti hustle, muscle and tussle their way to a breakthrough performance.Factor in yet another high-priced free agent (Catherine Zeta-Jones), a suspect script and the innate difficulties of making a sequel to a remake that every critic liked, and “Ocean’s Twelve” looks like less of a sure thing and more like a sucker’s bet.

So, I was surprised how much I enjoyed “Ocean’s Twelve” – and mostly in ways I wouldn’t have expected. For instance, as enjoyable as Don Cheadle has been in Soderbergh’s other movies (“Out of Sight” and “Traffic”), his diminished role almost comes as a relief – saddled as he is with a ridiculous accent and mannerisms. But I would have figured a smaller role for Bernie Mac would hurt the sequel. I guess that’s the strength of an ensemble cast: Even though this time Soderbergh concentrates more on Zeta-Jones, Brad Pitt and Matt Damon than Julia Roberts, George Clooney and Andy Garcia, it’s just as compelling – if not more so. Maybe chemistry came with time, because they seem to have figured one another out and seem to be having fun.The same goes for the makeshift script, which Soderbergh and Co. cannibalized from an unmade John Woo bullet ballet. Its skeletal nature looks less like a liability and more like a license for the cast to put its newfound ease and ensemble charm on display. And, in turn, the Rat Pack pedigree of “Ocean’s Eleven” looks more like a slavish debt that handcuffed the original to its source material.

And it seems almost ironic that while the cameos and allusions that persist through “Ocean’s Twelve” never let viewers forget that there are big stars involved – including a big wink and nod to Roberts’ turn in Soderbergh’s “Full Frontal” – that bare-bones approach highlights the cast’s charm.The hype and the hipper-than-thou promotion of “Ocean’s Twelve” might not constitute selling the sequel softly in the eyes of many. But the sum total of “Twelve” is more than “Eleven” – the rare sequel that stands taller than the original remake on its own merits.


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