Ocean's Eleven

 

Robin Clifford 

Laura Clifford 

In 1960 director Lewis Milestone assembled the members of Hollywood's notorious Rat Pack (Frank Sinatra and friends) and a bunch of veteran character actors in a caper flick about a high-tech, military-style heist of Las Vegas's biggest casinos. Now, movie wunderkind Steven Soderbergh recreates the original story but with a new millennium twist in "Ocean's Eleven."

Robin:
The original flick, which also starred Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Joey Bishop and Peter Lawford, was the first, most successful joining of the Rat Pack crew - and Old Blue Eyes didn't sing a note. Today's update to the original story by George Clayton Johnson and Jack Golden Russell stars George Clooney as the title character Daniel Ocean. Danny is just paroled from prison after a four-year stint for robbery but, instead of taking the straight and narrow, he immediately begins to look up his old cronies and builds up a plan for a new caper.

Danny starts with Frank Catton (Bernie Mac), a casino dealer using a fake name because of his past criminal activities. The ex-con moves on to his former right hand man, Rusty Ryan (Brad Pitt), a high-stakes gambler who is making ends meet teaching poker. Rusty, in turn, helps out with the recruiting of the team that will, if plans go right, steal $150 million from the three casinos owned by Terry Benedict (Andy Garcia), who just so happens to be involved in a relationship with Danny's ex, Tess (Julia Roberts). A real rogues gallery is brought together with all the expertise needed to pull off Ocean's plan.

Danny sets the date of the heist to coincide with the start of a big deal heavyweight championship-boxing match at one of the casinos. After the recruitment phase is over and the 11 felons are assembled, the preparation stage begins and a painstaking recreation of the target, an underground vault with security better than at a nuclear missile installation, is built for practice purposes. Danny and company begin working on the split second timing that will be needed to pull off the job - something never done in the history of Las Vegas gambling.

Part three, the execution of the caper, kicks in and all of the players go into action. There is a swirl of activity all around as the hype of the prize fight draws thousands to the arena and even more money is stuffed into the coffers of Benedict's high-tech, underground, impenetrable vault. This is where the film's sleight of hand takes place as Danny's team sets off to fulfill the plan. Complicating matters is Danny's still simmering affection for Tess, eliciting a jealous reaction from Terry Benedict. Will the casino owner figure out what's going on? Will the boys get caught? Will the health of elder gang member, Saul (Carl Reiner), put the whole scheme in jeopardy? And, will Danny get back together with Tess? All questions are neatly answered in the end.

One thing that is obvious when watching the all new "Ocean's Eleven" is that everyone involved is having a great deal of fun. While Clooney is the leader of this modern day Rat Pack, none of the actors involved is required to carry the film, so all can let their hair down and enjoy playing their criminal characters. And quite a collection of stars and character actors it is, too. Besides the aforementioned Clooney, Pitt, Roberts and Garcia gracing the screen, there is Matt Damon, Don Cheadle (sporting a Cockney accent), Bernie Mac, Scott Caan, Casey Affleck, Reiner and, having the most fun of all, Elliot Gould as the heist financier Reuben Tishkoff. No one is going to be remembered by the Academy, but that is not what "Ocean's Eleven" is about.

Soderbergh does double duty as director and cinematographer (credited under the moniker Peter Andrews), as he did in "Traffic," and capably handles both jobs. The rest of the techs are also ably covered, giving "Ocean's Eleven" the big budget look that its big budget mandates. The updated script by Ted Griffin has the requisite humor, snappy dialog and bombastic action, like many heist films since the original Rat Pack hit the screen.

"Ocean's Eleven" is really a re-imagining of the original, not just a remake. It takes a focus of its own and paces quickly through to its logical conclusion. It is all very slick and isn't the kind of flick that you'll watch again and again, but it is a lot of fun and reps a bit of light entertainment for the holidays. I give it a B.

Laura:
Danny Ocean (George Clooney) leaves a New Jersey prison with a plan and a secret agenda.  He lays out the plan to old pal Rusty (Brad Pitt) - knock off the vault of the Bellagio Hotel, which also covers the MGM Grand and the Mirage, during the night of a big fight to the tune of about $160 million. Danny and Rusty can't pull this off alone so the two find the talents they'll need to make up "Ocean's Eleven."

After the one-two punch of "Erin Brokovich" and "Traffic" last year, director Steven Soderbergh gathered a group of fun loving guys (and lone girl, Julia Roberts) and headed to Las Vegas to remake this high profile romp.  Soderbergh's style, Ted Griffin's witty script and a talented cast whip up into frothy fun.

The only real pleasure in the original "Ocean's 11" was being let into the Rat Pack circle for a couple of hours.  While there's no crooning ability to be found in the remake's cast, they certainly seem like a bunch of cool cats who enjoy goofing on each other.

The film begins by making its audience Danny Ocean's parole board.  Clooney faces the camera, lies through his teeth, and, most amazingly, manages to smirk using only the corner of his eye.  This Danny Ocean is the kind of guy who always leaves a prison sporting a tuxedo in crumpled morning after fashion.

I've said it before and I'll say it again - Brad Pitt should stick to comedy. His Rusty is introduced teaching poker to Hollywood types (Topher Grace of "Traffic" and TV's "That 70's Show" and Joshua Jackson of "Skulls" appear as themselves).  Rusty's frustration turns to appreciation when Danny appears at his table and fleeces the lot.  Clooney and Pitt have more onscreen chemistry than most celluloid lovers.

After procuring the blessing of backer Reuben Tishkoff, (Elliott Gould, in fine hilarious fettle) who deems their plan impossible until hearing that it's aimed at his arch rival Terry Benedict (Andy Garcia), the two branch off to form their team.  Turk (Scott Caan, "Novocaine") and Virgil (Casey Affleck, "Good Will Hunting") Malloy are found pitting one's monster truck driving skills against the other's remote controlled mini vehicle.  Basher Tarr (Don Cheadle, "Rush Hour 2") is a cockney ('We're in Barney.  Rubble. Trouble.') explosives expert.  Livingston Dell (Eddie Jemison, "Schizopolis") is their professional eavesdropper.  Danny easily finds Frank Catton (Bernie Mac, "The Original Kings of Comedy") working at the Vegas tables, then deals the first of many humiliations (offset too, the stories go) to Matt Damon's Linus, the son of an old colleague, by lifting his wallet as means of introduction.  Rusty finds Saul Bloom (Carl Reiner, never better) at the track and lures him out of retirement before taking Danny to a Vegas show to check out their 'grease man,' Chinese contortionist Yen (Shaobo Qin).

Rusty soon finds out that Reuben's not the only one with a grudge against Terry Benedict, who happens to be seeing Danny's ex-wife Tess (Julia Roberts, busy suppressing a grin in her first scene).  Danny is determined to win her back.  Rusty's fearful of Danny's agenda and sidelines him, but there's no stopping an Ocean.

Soderbergh, acting as his own cinematographer, slickly assembles his heist, letting the pieces slide into place like tumblers in a lock.  If the moment of the actual theft is a bit of a let down, it's because we're duped along with Terry Benedict.  Soderbergh gets in a last laugh by wrapping with a sequel suggestive shot.

"Ocean's Eleven" may be the first film whose cast party *is* the movie.

B

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