Steven Soderbergh’s Ocean’s Twelve is a starfucking circle-jerk orgy that doesn’t even have the common decency to get you off. It’s the equivalent of late-night softcore pornography on a Cinemax sister channel, the kind of soul-deadening tripe that hypnotizes with its insignificantly decadent surface, generating the illusion of enjoyment. At least Cinemax deigns to show you breasts and ass; all Ocean’s Twelve has going for it is an, um, ocean of celebrities making googly eyes to themselves and at each other: there’s so much mugging in this film that I kept checking my pockets to see if my wallet was missing.
An extended prologue—the inept structure of which prefigures an endless series of time-jumbled and suspenseless heist sequences—reintroduces all the characters from Ocean’s Eleven, and it’s telling that not a single one makes a lasting impression. The admittedly to-die-for cast is watered down to the level of interchangeable Barbie dolls and the film reaches its simultaneous height and nadir of wit when Julia Roberts’s character Tess passes herself off as…wait for it…Julia Roberts! Indeed, Ocean’s Twelve exists for no other reason than to cater to each viewer’s celebrity recognition factor. (“Ooo look, it’s Brad Pitt! Boy he’s gotten older since Troy.”) It’s exactly the sort of thing Quentin Tarantino gets accused of doing, but there’s a passion and thematic focus to his work (particularly evident in the two Kill Bill films) that’s all but missing from Ocean’s Twelve, which marks yet another turn in the downward career spiral of Steven Soderbergh.
Soderbergh used to be a great director (The Limey is one of the finest films ever made about the illusory qualities of memory), but he’s significantly lowered his standards since the one-two awards-baiting punch of Erin Brockovich and Traffic. Content, in his own words, to be the next John Huston (where’s James Agee when you need him?) Soderbergh’s work has become increasingly bland and anonymous, surprising considering he also operates, under the pseudonym Peter Andrews, as his own cameraman. Film is an increasingly specialized (some would say dying) art, and one would think Soderbergh’s immersion in the production process would yield untold dividends. Instead, we get films like Solaris and the two Ocean’s movies—corrupt Hollywood products tarted up by their super-handheld-hits-of-the-’70s aesthetic and disguised as pinnacles of cinematic form. After two-plus hours of such poseur bullshit (what my viewing companion likened to the “cool” kids at summer camp performing amateur theater skits on Talent Day) one can’t help but feel like that great icon of ’70s cinema Travis Bickle, praying for a cleansing deluge—an ocean, if you will—to quickly wash Ocean’s Twelve and its ilk off of our screens and out of our minds.