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'Ocean's Eleven'

Soderbergh rounds up the boys for remake of 'Ocean's Eleven.' You in?

Friday, December 07, 2001

By Barbara Vancheri, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

You have to give Steven Soderbergh points for appealing to both ends of the movie audience demographic -- and everyone in between.

 
 
"Ocean's Eleven"

RATING: PG-13 for some language and sexual content.

STARRING: George Clooney, Brad Pitt, et al

DIRECTOR: Steven Soderbergh

WEB SITE: oceans11.warnerbros.com

CRITIC'S CALL:


Clooney, Damon, Garcia and producer banter about 'Ocean's Eleven,' but not in depth

   
 

In his version of "Ocean's Eleven," Brad Pitt is a card sharp who runs a poker school for teen heartthrobs in Hollywood. And there, sitting around a table trying to remember the rules of five-card draw are actors from "7th Heaven," "That '70s Show," "Dawson's Creek" and "Once & Again." Later, during a Las Vegas fight, eagle-eyed moviegoers can spot Angie Dickinson and Wayne Newton sitting ringside.

The real juice, of course, is supplied by a cast led by three men who launched a thousand magazine covers (and that's just People and the National Enquirer): George Clooney, Brad Pitt and Matt Damon. They're part of a crew planning to rob three Vegas casinos on a fight night when $160 million should be in the vault.

In the 1960s original, starring Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr. and Peter Lawford, 11 old paratrooper buddies decide to hit five casinos on New Year's Eve. The title came from the name of Sinatra's swingin' character, Danny Ocean.

The lighthearted lark was awash in booze, disposable dames, cigarettes, music, hipness (Davis calls men "cats") and the sort of dialogue that springs only from a facile-fingered writer. Dickinson, who played Danny's estranged wife, says her marriage "drowned in champagne. ... We didn't have a home, we had a floating crap game."

Con man Clooney steps into the role of Danny Ocean, released from a New Jersey state prison as the movie opens. He goes directly to a casino in Atlantic City and begins violating his parole in just about every possible way. After touching base with a dealer there, he heads for Los Angeles and Rusty Ryan (Pitt), his most trusted ally and a man who is seen eating almost every time he's on screen.

Ocean hatches a scheme to hit three casinos on the Vegas Strip -- The Bellagio, Mirage and MGM Grand -- and to get a flamboyant Vegas oldtimer named Reuben Tishkoff (Elliott Gould) to bankroll his plan. Reuben has a grudge against the man (Andy Garcia) who owns those three casinos. And so, it turns out, does Ocean and it has to do with his ex-wife, Tess (Julia Roberts).

Danny and Rusty turn to old friends, second-generation criminals and crooks with newfangled surveillance, acrobatic and munitions skills. Danny tells his crew the security "rivals nuclear missile silos," and cracking this safe will require abilities that Sinatra's boys couldn't have even imagined.

Dazzling us with dancing fountains, mood music, lights that are seductive and sleek rather than gaudy, and men and women in black tie, "Ocean's Eleven" takes us into the heart of the preparations and the elaborate, exquisitely planned caper.

Like many of its quips, "Ocean's Eleven" is glib and highly entertaining. When you have a movie with 11 principal players, however, you cannot expect much background on them and you don't get it. The original fleshed out a few in a way that was interesting but slowed down the proceedings. Here, each man can be summarized in a single phrase -- pickpocket; retired flimflam man who spends his days at the dog races; squabbling twin brothers with an affinity for autos. You get the idea.

In a way, it's hard to forget you're watching Clooney, Pitt and Roberts, stars whose wattage rivals all the lights in Vegas. Damon plays down his sex appeal with dark hair and Don Cheadle adopts a Cockney accent for his role. Also present and accounted for: Bernie Mac, Casey Affleck, Scott Caan, Eddie Jemison, Shaobo Quin and 79-year-old Carl Reiner.

Soderbergh, who last year earned a pair of Oscar nominations (and one statue) for "Traffic" and "Erin Brockovich," proves he is one of Hollywood's most versatile directors. "Ocean's Eleven" lacks the heft of his movies about the seemingly unsolvable drug problem and a legal crusader who brought down a mighty utility. But it's a lot more fun, including its "And introducing Julia Roberts" line in the credits.

And when Clooney's charismatic con man says, "You're either in or you're out," odds are you'll want to be in.

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