Wednesday, June 6, 2007

From the Archive: Summer Movie Flashback Series - "Ocean's Twelve" Review

Welcome to The Archive, a comprehensive collection of reviews dating back to 2007, originally written for The Denver Post’s YourHub.Com website and print edition!  In the archive, you’ll find hundreds of movie, DVD, Blu-Ray, and TV reviews, along with other special features.  You can access the complete Archive Collection by clicking here, and read about the archive project by clicking here. 

In the summer of 2007, I ran a special feature column where – due to the large number of sequels released that year – I revisited the original films from many ongoing franchises.  Here’s an excerpt from the article I wrote to introduce the feature:

“Well, the summer movie season has arrived … many, including myself, have dubbed this as the summer of sequels, because there are lots and lots of sequels coming out. To name a few, there's “Shrek the Third,” “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End,” “Ocean's Thirteen,” “Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer,” “Live Free or Die Hard,” “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix,” “The Bourne Ultimatum,” “Rush Hour 3,” and many more. I'm personally on the edge of my seat waiting for all these sequels, and excited to start reviewing them. And once I get excited about reviewing stuff, it's hard to stop. So, until the sequels to these franchises come out, I'll be revisiting their predecessors with brand new reviews to bring everybody up to speed!”

Continue reading after the jump to access Summer Movie Flashback review of “Ocean's Twelve.”

From the Jonathan R. Lack Review Archives:
“Ocean's Twelve”
Summer Movie Flashback originally published June 6th, 2007

Ocean’s Eleven....if you’ve read my review, you know I love that film to death (the remake, obviously).  It’s a modern classic, like many films having sequels this summer.  I was very excited when Ocean’s Twelve came out, but like many sequels, it was an underwhelming film.  It’s not a bad movie; on the contrary, there’s a lot to love here.  The acting’s good, the direction is sharp, the music is fun, and the overall production values are top notch.  Ocean’s Twelve’s problem is that it tries way too hard; it wants to entertain, and while it’s a fine way to spend two hours, it ultimately falls flat in several crucial areas.

First off is the convoluted and sometimes overly confusing plot.  A lot of stuff happens in the film’s two hours; the basic story is that Terry Benedict, the guy Ocean and his crew of crooks robbed last time wants his money back, and if he doesn’t get it, his thugs will kill all eleven of Ocean’s crew. 

The film’s first problem is in this main overall story arc.  It totally diminishes the effect of the first film when in the opening moments of the sequel we see the bad guy scaring the living daylights out of our favorite characters, and making them reverse everything they did in the first film.  I mean, how would fans have reacted if in The Empire Strikes Back, Darth Vader found Luke Skywalker and made him and Han Solo and Chewbacca build him a new death star?  That would be completely ridiculous, because would mean that if Vader got his wish, everything our heroes did in the original Star Wars was reversed, and the movie is virtually pointless, along with its sequel, because when the sequel is over, everyone is back to square one. 

That’s exactly what happens in Ocean’s Twelve.  Danny and his crew have to give all the money back, negating the first film entirely and making the sequel completely pointless besides negating the original film.  Often, sequels are disappointing or downright bad, but most sequels don’t go out of their way to completely negate everything that has happened in the series thus far, just like in my Star Wars metaphor.  Except, in that scenario, it was less bad, because Vader would still have just one death star.  In Ocean’s Twelve, Benedict already has all his money back from insurance, so when the movie is over, Benedict has twice as much money, making the only point of this two movie series to make a complete jerk insanely rich.  Why make a sequel just so you can make a whole franchise pointless, to make all your characters go back to where they started, except for the villain, who becomes even richer. 

Basically, this is the movie’s one big flaw.  The actual film is pretty good.  Like I said, it falls flat in the entertainment department quite a few times for trying to hard, but all in all, it’s an okay movie.  There are lots of subplots of the gang trying to get the money back, eventually becoming a plot about them going head to head with the world’s greatest thief.  This is a fun plot that, despite a poorly thought out twist at the end that negates lots of prior action (this series loves to do that), manages to entertain on many levels, and reaches the heights of the first film a few times.  The problem is, it takes almost a full hour to get to this plot, and until then, the film just rambles on.  I truly believe the plot of Ocean’s crew going up against a master thief should have been the film’s only plot.  The film would have flowed much better, you wouldn’t be negating the first film, and it would be much more in the spirit of the original movie.

Another problem that can be traced to the plot is that many characters are done away with early on in the film, only to be brought back at the very end.  Bernie Mac’s character is arrested upon the gang’s arrival in Amsterdam, and Carl Reiner’s character abandons the group early on.  Shabao Qin’s character of Yen, the gang’s grease man, is absent for about 45 minutes in the middle, and others are gone for long stretches of time or aren’t used at all and just stand around the whole film.  These missing or useless characters amounts to a feeling that the film is less about group interaction.  Group interaction made the first film a blast, but the fact that so many people have nothing to do in this one brings the film down a lot.  

But despite all the plot issues the movie is plagued with, there are some things to cheer about.  Once again, the actors have great on screen chemistry and do a great job in their roles.  Not nearly as good as in the original, but it’s still tons of fun to watch these actors on screen together.  Often, however, the film’s new screenwriter doesn’t have a good enough handle on the characters and the dialogue falls flat.  The acting makes up for it, but with the screenwriter not knowing the characters as well as he should, lots of jokes just don’t work.  But this is a small issue; yes, the film is worth a watch just to see these characters interact.

The film’s production values are very high, too.  The film uses its 2.35:1 aspect ratio to great advantage; every last shot uses it great width to give us more action, and anyone studying good cinematography or just wants to know how to make an interesting shot should watch this film. 

The music is once again tons of fun; it’s not an epic score by any means, but is a blast to listen to.  Sadly, the music is so overused you get sick of it.  Ocean’s Eleven would break into montage form every so often to convey ongoing plots that had been set up and were now going in to motion.  This effect was loved by all, so the filmmakers to decided to do it once every five minutes in Ocean’s Twelve.  There were innumerable montages in Ocean’s Twelve, and it gets really annoying.  There’d be an exchange, or a speech, or something to that effect, then a montage, and sometimes this pattern would continue for 45 minutes at a time.  The music accompanying these montages is good, yes, but gets old because it’s used so much.

In the end, Ocean’s Twelve is not a bad film, but it’s just not a really good one either.  It’s mediocre, and the fact that it makes this entire series pointless by spending the entire sequel negating the original makes it even worse.  Still, I’d recommend renting the DVD and watching it at least once.  There’s enough entertainment value to merit at least one viewing.  It’s not Ocean’s Eleven, by any means, but its lots of fun in parts, and despite its flaws, its an acceptable follow up. 

But even if you love the film, the DVD Warner has released is a fairly bad value, unless you’re getting it for five bucks at Wal-Mart.  Warner Bros. apparently decided to not put any special features on this disc.  You get the movie and a theatrical trailer.  That’s it.  The trailer is fun to watch, but only once or twice.  Then what are you left with?  There’s not even a commentary.  I guess the producers were too ashamed to tell anyone about the making of the film.  Thing is, even though I find this to be a mediocre film, I’d still love to see some bonus features on certain aspects of production.   For instance, how did that set up some of the epic, panoramic shots, or where was the film filmed, and what was production like there?  Why did the filmmaker’s decided to completely negate the first film in the sequel?  Was there talk of a Danny Ocean action figure at any point?  All questions that could have been answered with no more than a simple tech commentary.  Disappointing, to say the least.

Well, there you have it.  Ocean’s Eleven is an A film, and Ocean’s Twelve is a B-.  What will Ocean’s Thirteen be?  Ocean’s Twelve being mediocre actually makes me look forward to Thirteen even more.  Ocean’s Twelve was not bad, and if certain flaws had been fixed, it could have been great.  This leads me to believe that the crew has learned from their mistakes and now want to reward patient fans with a truly great sequel to finish off the trilogy.  Only the near future will tell if my prediction is correct. 

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