FILM: ALSO SHOWING: The dirty dozen go up in smoke

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Indy Lifestyle Online
Watching other people's holiday videos is never the most rewarding pastime, and Ocean's Twelve (12A) is, at heart, a souvenir that George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Julia Roberts and a crowd of other superstars brought back from their European vacation. Ocean's Eleven was hardly gritty, admittedly, but on some basic level it wanted us to believe that we were watching some crooks planning an elaborate heist. In the sequel, the crimes can't have taken much longer to write than they do to watch. We're treated to three different robberies in the closing reel, and none of them is more ingenious than someone grabbing a precious artefact while no one else is looking.

For what it's worth, the plot goes like this. Years after the Eleven nabbed a zillion dollars from a Las Vegas casino, its owner (Andy Garcia) hunts them down and gives them just two weeks to pay back the cash with interest.

The gang decide that their profile is too high in the US, so they set off to Amsterdam and Rome, where they cross paths with a dogged detective (Catherine Zeta-Jones), and a French thief called the Night Fox (Vincent Cassel) who wants to prove that he's top dog. Don't worry too much about all that, though. Ocean's Twelve is really about Clooney's cronies wearing lightweight suits and trading even more lightweight quips.

The film has more jokes than Ocean's Eleven did, most of them in-jokes. When Matt Damon complains, "I'd really like to play a more central role this time around," he's talking about both the heist and the movie, and that's the sort of humour on offer: it's either self-referential or self- congratulatory, depending on whether or not you're a Heat subscriber.

Other distractions are the chunky, funky score which David Holmes plasters over the action, and the nouvelle vague camera tricks which Steven Soderbergh keeps using to remind us what an arty director and cinematographer he is. But that's all just decoration. With a sagging, muddled story at its centre, the film is like the holographic Faberge Egg which is rigged up by one of the many surprise guest stars. It may look glitzy, but it doesn't have any substance at all.

This year's films are starting to read like a bingo card. In the last fortnight we've had Ladder 49 and Assault on Precinct 13, and now, in the same week as Ocean's Twelve, there's 15 (18), a brutal expose of life on the streets of Singapore for five teenaged boys. Their schools and parents are a shadowy background presence at most, so the boys make their own entertainment by getting tattoos, watching porn and beating up their enemies from the hated English-speaking middle class. No wonder 15 was deemed "a threat to national security" by the Singaporean censorship board. The debut film from 27-year-old Royston Tan, it zings with a fledgling director's zeal for experimental animation and editing, but it's also rooted in ugly reality. The actors are genuine street kids essentially playing themselves, and some scenes - such as when a drug mule strains to swallow a condom stuffed with pills - are so authentic that you'll need a very broad mind and a very strong stomach to get through them. Even at its grimmest, however, the boys' tender loyalty is never in doubt - and neither is Royston's incendiary talent.

Like Babe, Racing Stripes (U) is set in a farmyard of digitally-tweaked talking animals, and, as in Babe, one of those animals wants a career change: Stripes the zebra dreams of competing against the thoroughbreds on the neighbouring racetrack. Luckily enough, his owner is a smiley girl who dreams of being a jockey, and he has the support of his fellow quadrupeds, who are voiced by Dustin Hoffman, Whoopi Goldberg, Snoop Dogg (typecast as a dog) and others. Although it's not as intelligent as Babe was, Racing Stripes is a polished Hollywood product that should keep young viewers amused. But it's all very didactic, with far too many edifying messages for one little zebra to carry. Speech after speech instructs us to follow our dreams and appreciate our friends - and that's a lot to take from a film with such a sizable role for a flatulent talking fly.

In Shabd (12A), a Booker-winning novelist overcomes his writer's block by pushing his wife (Bride and Prejudice's Aishwarya Rai) towards an affair with a colleague, just so he can write a book about what happens. It's an intriguing premise for an erotic, Stephen King-ly thriller, but it's soon swamped by Bollywood histrionics.

n.barber@independent.co.uk

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