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It’s sexier, it’s funnier, and it’s way more stylish. Steven Soderbergh’s Ocean’s Eleven may have been an improvement over the 1960 Rat Pack original, but given its all-star cast, Vegas setting, and cool-criminal crux, it still proved vaguely disappointing in the slick-caper category. With a new screenwriter on board and a few new director’s tricks, Ocean’s Twelve shows what kind of X2 fun a sequel can have when all that pesky exposition is already out of the way.

Twelve opens three-and-a-half years after the first chapter, which ended with the thievery corporation headed by Danny Ocean (George Clooney) and Rusty Ryan (Brad Pitt) successfully robbing the Bellagio—and owner Terry Benedict (Andy Garcia), new paramour of Danny’s ex, Tess (Julia Roberts)—of $160 million. The gang members have gone their separate ways, making sorry attempts to lead legitimate lives (Danny tells a bank officer that he’s retiring after a career as a high-school basketball coach), when Benedict hunts them down, demanding that the group pay back the money they stole. Plus interest. In two weeks. Or else.

The only one who’s not short his share of the dough is financier Reuben Tishkoff (Elliott Gould), so the rest of them—Ocean, Ryan, Linus (Matt Damon), Basher (Don Cheadle), Frank (Bernie Mac), Yen (Shaobo Qin), Saul (Carl Reiner), Livingston (Eddie Jemison), and brothers Virgil and Turk (Casey Affleck and Scott Caan)—decide that their only option is to do another job. Because they’re too hot in the States, they hop a flight to Amsterdam to figure out their next heist. Coincidentally, Rusty’s old girlfriend Isabel (Catherine Zeta-Jones), a cop whom he walked out on three years prior, is living in Amsterdam, working as a detective with the European criminal-intelligence group Europol.

Scripter George Nolfi, taking over for Eleven screenwriter Ted Griffin, gets the balance of slick and silly just right, offering humor that runs from dry (Linus: “God, the interest just kills you”) to adolescent (Virgil and Turk: “You look like a retard.” “I’ll give you a million dollars if you don’t speak for a month”). One odd, if not entirely unwelcome, characteristic of Twelve is that wink-winking nearly takes over for thieving as the film’s central conceit. Roberts gets a chance to poke fun at herself, Bruce Willis makes a cameo, and Topher Grace returns in a completely unnecessary but pretty funny scene in which he plays a distraught version of himself, saying that he “totally phoned in that Dennis Quaid movie” and then yelling, “God, it’s like this Kabbalah crap doesn’t even work!”

Another shift from Eleven’s script is that Clooney, Pitt, and Damon are even more in the spotlight this time around, with the other roles pushed into the background for reasons that are only sometimes explained. (Saul, for instance, decides that he doesn’t want to do another job, and Frank ends up in jail soon after they get to Amsterdam.) Each of them easily handles his version of mischievous charmer, but the real scene-stealer is the sleek-haired Zeta-Jones, whose allegiance-shifting Isabel—daughter of a criminal herself—is sharp, polished, and without a doubt the most stunning cop to ever grace the screen.

Soderbergh, serving as his own cinematographer (as he did in Full Frontal, Ocean’s Eleven, and Traffic), goes schizophrenic with the camera, often zooming in on actors’ faces ’70s-style, then going with a handheld, then offering a bit of grainy, hypercolorized Three Kings stuff. Though the handheld strategy, presumably meant to inject energy, often backfires—not since Dancer in the Dark has watching a conversation been so nauseating—Ocean’s Twelve is otherwise breathtaking: Soderbergh’s extreme closeups of his impossibly beautiful actors, so tight you can see their pores, add immediacy in solo shots and incredible heat to the film’s few kisses, and his shading renders the movie’s historic European locales painting-pretty.

The plot, light as a pickpocket’s touch, lacks the original’s tendency toward minutiae; it also leaves a few holes. And not everything goes right for our crooks—which is refreshing until, of course, everything does. But, really, quibbles about a sequel’s unrealistic breeziness seem hardly legitimate when its story is based on a $160 million casino heist. By the end, it’s less likely you’ll be keeping score than thinking about the conversation in which Danny tells the bank officer that he once was in a vault while it was being robbed. “That must have been quite an experience,” the guy says. A pause and a smug smile later, Danny wistfully says, “Yeah.”

Blade: Trinity seemed doomed from the get-go. When a series’ first installment (1998’s Blade) is ho-hum and its second (2002’s Blade II) is different but not necessarily better, a third chapter starts looking more like a final nail than a triumphant resurrection.

Consider a couple of new sidekicks—in the form of Ryan Reynolds and Jessica Biel—and straight-to-video suddenly seems like a more appropriate fate for the project. But wait: There’s also Dracula. How could anybody screw up the inherent coolness of Dracula? Maybe he’ll devour Reynolds and Biel, and the trilogy will go out with a delightful flourish.

What a surprise, then, that Blade: Trinity succeeds and fails in just the opposite way: Dracula (Dominic Purcell) is a disaster, while Reynolds’ Hannibal King (!) saves the movie with his sarcasm. Biel? Well, her role as Abigail Whistler, daughter of the titular vampire slayer’s assistant (Kris Kristofferson), is pretty much the eye candy you’d expect it to be, and she doesn’t embarrass herself with the few lines she is given.

As for Blade himself (Wesley Snipes), he’s relegated to the sidelines while his uninvited apprentices rescue him from tight spots or do the tiresome killing themselves. Which is another plus for Trinity: Snipes’ snarly, overly robotic half-vampire, half-human Marvel Comics character seems like a slayer as parodied on The Simpsons. Dark glasses, black trench coat, and giant arms aside, Snipes’ Blade is a monotone Terminator whose stiffness is not only far from wicked—it’s also completely uninteresting.

The story involves Blade’s tussle with “vampire leaders,” who sic the FBI on him and then up and resurrect Dracula. Horribly, one of these leaders is portrayed by Parker Posey, whose too-big fake teeth not only make her mouth look grotesque but also muffle all the ridiculous lines that come out of it. (When she’s about to get Blade and is interrupted by the arrival of an old boyfriend, she screams, “Hannibal King!” serving as Reynolds’ introduction.) Posey’s Danica Talos is, however, occasionally funny, whether intentionally (during a vampire meeting about how Blade escaped, she gets so mad talking about it she punches a nearby blonde) or not (she sports a hairdo that can only be described as a raised swirly).

David S. Goyer, scriptwriter for all three Blade films, also directs this time around. Apparently, he has a weakness for evil slo-mo walks (there are at least three of them), lots of confusing cuts and flashing lights, and kung-fu action—which seems highly arbitrary, given that the slightest jab with the slayers’ silver daggers disintegrates the vampires into tiny embers. Goyer’s only success is the performance he gets out of Reynolds. Facial hair just barely helps the boyish Van Wilder star teeter toward badass, but it’s a good thing his goofiness can’t be completely hidden: If it weren’t for King’s freakouts about things such as a blood-sucking Pomeranian or one-liners along the lines of “Unlike typical vampires, her fangs are located in her vagina,” Trinity would just be another perplexing big-screen telling of Someone vs. Those Other Guys.

Even though one of those other guys is Dracula. Purcell, with closely shorn brown hair and not a terribly menacing demeanor, looks as if he’d be more at home in a Bally’s commercial than portraying the undead. His Dracula is suspiciously wussy throughout, and at Trinity’s lame end, the suspicion is confirmed: Outfitted in what looks like a metallic ruby tank top, vinyl pants, and a silver shield on one shoulder, the character gives up the fight with “You fought with honor. I respect that.”

At the beginning of the film, a narrator disparages the classic Hollywood Draculas by saying, “Everyone knows that movies are full of shit.” Despite surpassing low expectations, Blade: Trinity makes this a self-fulfilling prophecy.CP