NOW PLAYING: Ocean's 11

Posted: Monday, December 10, 2001

The temptation for a critic to turn the review of a high profile remake into a comparative essay outlining the weaknesses of the new film in light of the strengths of the old is enormous. Ocean's 11, Steven Soderbergh's update of the famous 60's Frank Sinatra heist film, is rife for just such comparison. I have chosen, however, to examine this film on it's own merits, not based on how it measures up to it's predecessor. I'd like to think this is due to a finely honed sense of filmic integrity on my part, but the truth is I just haven't had a chance to get my butt down to the video store to rent the first one yet.

George Clooney is Daniel Ocean, a quick witted con man just out of jail and ready to reunite with his old partners to pull the biggest score of their lives. Ocean has a plan to knock over three, count 'em, three casinos. And not just any casinos; he wants to simultaneously rip off the Bellagio, the MGM Grand, and the Mirage, three casinos with a central underground vault and all owned by one man, Terry Benedict, played with classy menace by Andy Garcia. A job like this one requires a top notch crew and Ocean, with the help of former partner and friend Brad Pitt, rounds up a magnificent eleven; a quirky band of miscreants, each with a particular skill. There's Don Cheadle as a limey safecracker with an explosive sense of humor, Matt Damon as an eager young pick-pocket, Scott Caan and Casey Affleck as the Utah Brothers, everymen for any situation. There's the black jack dealer with an in at the casino, the electronics expert, and the aging con man out for one last job. There's even an acrobat a la Cirqu de Soleil. Once he's got his team together, Ocean only has one snag left to work out; what to do about the fact that Benedict is now dating his ex-wife, Julia Roberts. As you might guess, getting Julia back is going to be a lot more challenging than robbing a measly three casinos.

An elaborate plot plus an eccentric crew is a pretty standard Hollywood equation. While it has potential for positive results, there's no guarantee, i.e. Rat Race or 3000 Miles to Graceland. Ocean's is really the movie Graceland should have been. Whereas the latter was an orgy of pointless violence and unfunny jokes, under Soderbergh's capable direction, Ocean's turns out to be a lot of fun. It's exciting, and a lot funnier than I thought it was going to be. There's a classic scene in which Brad Pitt is trying to teach a bunch of Hollywood heartthrobs how to play poker. Despite Pitt's best efforts, the guy with "all reds" wins the pot. My favorites, however, are the Utah Brothers. These two are up for any situation They were casino workers, obnoxious gamblers, body guards, EMT's, even balloon delivery boys. Their constant banter was perfect, and it got such that all they had to do was show up on the screen for the audience to crack up.

The acting is all top-notch, of course. Soderbergh doesn't work with slouches. There is, however, nothing that requires a lot of dramatic skill. Ocean's 11, unlike the director's previous efforts Traffic and Erin Brockovich, is light. Clooney gets to act cocky and self-assured, like he does best. Pitt gets to sit back and observe all the goings on with an air of non-chalance. Roberts gets to toss her hair angrily, and yet smile prettily for the camera. No one's skills are being taxed for this film, not even the audiences. If you get lost during the scheming, don't worry about it. If they don't come back to it later and explicitly explain what happened, it'll be pretty easy to figure out by the end. If I had an issue with the film, it would be that there's very little meat to sink your teeth into, but I think we need that every now and again. I'm sure it was a pleasure to direct for Soderbergh, whose last two films were overflowing with social relevance.

Ocean's 11 is probably not going to become the classic its predecessor is. It's fun, it's cool, and it's jam- packed with stars, but it's a cream puff. Go see it for no other reason than to have a good time at the movies. Go to see it to laugh. Go to see it for the novelty of seeing Brad Pitt, Julia Roberts, Matt Damon and George Clooney all in a movie together. Don't go see it looking to be dazzled by an elaborate con, or stellar performances. That movie is Heist, and may still be playing somewhere. Ocean's 11 is not a fine film, it's a good movie, and sometimes that all you want to see. Grade: B+

Ocean's 11 is rated PG-13 for mild violence and mild language.

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