An entirely telling scene in Steven Soderbergh's Ocean's Twelve occurs about a half hour in. Master thieves Danny Ocean (George Clooney) and Rusty Ryan (Brad Pitt) attend a meeting with a crime contact named Matsui (Robbie Coltrane). They are accompanied by apprentice thief Linus Caldwell (Matt Damon), who is hoping to step up in the ranks of criminal leadership. In the final analysis we discover that this meeting has little purpose and that the little purpose it does have makes no sense whatsoever. However, we are struck by the proceedings of the meeting because Danny, Rusty and Matsui speak in a series of befuddling riddles that neither we nor Linus can understand. The three riddlers are having a high old time, and we're left on the outside with furrowed brows. That reaction captures the entire essence of this movie. The players seem to be having a ball, but what they are up to is an inside joke that the audience can't possibly get.
Written by George Nolfi, who would be lucky to get a C- for this script in a screenwriting class, Ocean's Twelve is a sequel to Ocean's Eleven, Soderbergh's surprisingly popular 2001 remake of Lewis Milestone's smug and lazy 1960 Rat Pack flick with Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., etc. Save for his chance to hang out with a bunch of cool guys, I didn't understand Soderbergh's interest in doing the remake. This is the filmmaker who made indie-film history with sex, lies, and videotape and went on to make such arresting films as Kafka, The Limey and Traffic. Even Soderbergh's more traditional entertainments, like Out of Sight and Erin Brockovich, have been noted for their style and class. So Ocean's Eleven seemed an odd choice. But Eleven at least bothered with a plot. Twelve is so slovenly, I found myself wondering if it isn't perhaps the film version of the song "MacArthur's Park" whose lyrics were deliberately nonsensical.
Such as it is, the story in Twelve goes this way: Danny and his men robbed millions from casino big-wig Terry Benedict (Andy Garcia) in Eleven. Now Terry has tracked them down and wants his money back, with interest. In round numbers, he wants a quarter of a billion dollars. Odd things abound at the outset. Danny et al are supposed to be on the lam, but they seem to be living out in the open. On the other hand, none of them seem to have access to a phone. Terry shows up to threaten them individually one at a time, but none calls another to offer a heads up.
An obvious alternative would be to let Terry sleep with the fishes. But since Danny's gang are thieves and not killers they don't seem to think of this even though Terry fully well plans to kill them if they don't come up with his money in just two weeks' time. Having decided that they'll just have to rob some yet-to-be-decided Peter to pay Terry's Paul, the picture makes an almost laughable decision. There are no targets worth striking in the United States, they declare, so the thieves will just have to rob somebody in Rome. I am reminded of locations for Richard Lester's Help being selected because the Beatles thought they sounded like nice spots for vacationing. Italy anyone?
Now comes a second preposterous turn. Danny and his boys decide to steal some valuable paintings from a house with security that would make such a theft almost impossible. This makes little sense because a) the heist is so difficult and more important b) the paintings aren't worth even 1 percent of the money they need. But who cares about logic? The paintings robbery involves, and I know you will think I must be making this up, going underwater with enough hardware to build and float a battleship, installing hydraulic lifts under the villa housing the paintings, raising the villa up critical inches (without the owner noticing!!) and a bunch of other stuff that proves of so little interest to Soderbergh and his cast that the details are summarized rather than dramatized. Eventually the story morphs into a contest between Danny's gang and a solo crook named the Night Fox (Vincent Cassel) for the title of World Greatest Thief. The winner will have to succeed in stealing a Faberge Egg that still isn't worth the $250 million Danny's group needs. Oh yes, and then there's Catherine Zeta-Jones as a big deal Interpol cop and her tearful reunion with her master-thief father (Albert Finney), delivered with astonishing bombast to an audience that has barely a clue what's going on. And I mustn't forget Bruce Willis showing up as Bruce Willis to interact with Julia Roberts pretending to be a crook pretending to be Julia Roberts. The picture goes on forever but long before my butt began to ache I'd concluded that it was probably a lot more fun making this movie than it is watching it.