Ocean's Eleven (2001)

Reviewed By David Cornelius
Posted 12/14/04 13:46:38

"So very, very cool."
5 stars (Awesome)

It’s not chic to admit it, but the 1960 Rat Pack caper “Ocean’s Eleven” is one of my favorite films. That’s not to say it’s a great work of art; it’s just a damn fine piece of fun that entertains on repeat viewings. That said, I’m probably a harsher judge of Steven Soderbergh’s all-star remake. And that said, I’m delighted to say that the new version is just as fun as the old. Maybe even more.

The reason the new “Ocean’s Eleven” works is that the only resemblance to the original is the title, the name of the main character, and the general premise. By shucking everything else, the movie’s allowed a fresh start, without having to be concerned about the ghosts of the original. With that said, I’ll do my best to refrain from comparisons.

The new Danny Ocean is George Clooney, fresh out of prison and looking for a heist to pull. He tracks down old pal Rusty Ryan (Brad Pitt) and informs him of his plan to knock over three Las Vegas casinos at once. The reason? It turns out that all three casinos are owned by sleazebag Terry Benedict (Andy Garcia), who’s been shtupping Danny’s ex-wife (Julia Roberts).

Of course, nobody’s ever managed to steal from a casino in Vegas history, let alone pull off a job as big as this one (the take reaches nine digits). But Danny’s sure it can be done, and he and Rusty line up a who’s who of crime; the “eleven” of the title is the amount of guys it takes to do a caper this big.

The who’s who is what makes the film the all-star event that it should be. In addition to Clooney, Pitt, Garcia, and Roberts (which, let’s face it, is more than enough right there), we get Matt Damon, Don Cheadle, Elliott Gould, Carl Reiner, Bernie Mac, Casey Affleck, Scott Caan, and newcomers Eddie Jemison and Shaobo Qin. If that’s not enough, there are a handful of celebs-as-themselves cameos. And they all look like they’re having a ball, even if they’ve been relegated to supporting roles with little screen time. That’s because they’re each given the chance to provide some big laughs at one point or another, and each one becomes a memorable piece of the puzzle. (The one to watch is Qin, a member of the Peking Opera who makes his film debut here; his acrobatics will knock you on your ass.)

The weird thing is, you don’t really get to know any of their characters’ names, since the film is more interested in the stars than in the characters. But that doesn’t really hurt the film at all. The caper is so much fun that the Serious Things that matter in more dramatic movies (like character development) don’t really need to come into play here. This kind of movie is all about the heist - which is a doozy - and the jokes - which are hilarious - than anything else.

Well, it’s also about style, which “Ocean’s” has in spades. Clooney and Pitt turn their cool meters up to eleven (so to speak) for this one, with the help of crisp dialogue from Ted Griffin’s airtight screenplay, which zings enough to earn plenty of sly grins. Soderbergh captures all that is cool about Vegas, filming the heist sequence like it’s the most fun ever. Even the soundtrack plays up the cool, letting the spirit of the Rat Pack slip in, if only subconsciously.

There’s only one real flaw in this new version, and it comes at the end. What we think is the perfect ending to the film is in fact not the ending, although it should have been. Instead, we fade out to an epilogue that, while fairly good, feels inexplicably tacked on. It doesn’t flow with the rest of the film; the movie would have been dynamite ending on the fade out.

That teeny quibble aside, the new “Ocean’s” is a wonderful piece of slick fluff. The stars are all delightful, especially Clooney and Pitt, who make a surprisingly good team. Soderbergh captures the tone of the original without getting stuck in its shadow. The action is tight and the comedy is loose, and the result is a sharp, giddy blast. Sinatra would be proud.

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