Of the quartet of heist movies featuring big stars released this year, Stephen Soderbergh's "Oceans Eleven" is the only one that really sings. "The Score" was solid but fell a little flat, "The Heist" lost its way at the crescendo, and "Bandits" was an unharmonious mess.
But what is astounding (and a little depressing) is that it took until the first full weekend of December to get the first Big Event movie of 2001 aimed primarily at adults that lives up to the hype. It's been a kids' year so far.
It is also surprising that a very entertaining movie could be derived from remaking a 1960 Rat Pack vehicle that is best forgotten. "Ocean's Eleven" may be lighter than air for the most part; but it is breezy fun, a thoroughly enjoyable romp.
George Clooney heads an all star cast in the title role of Danny Ocean. We meet Danny as he is being questioned by the parole board, and though he gives the politically correct answers, we know he is already planning his next con.
Danny reunites with his partner, Rusty (Brad Pitt) to plan the biggest heist in history, the simultaneous robbery of an ultra secure safe shared by three Las Vegas casinos. They pull together a crew of thieves with various talents (a fortuitous change from the original is that they are not ex-servicemen, that would be considered bad form at the moment).
Among the not so magnificent eleven recruits are: pickpocket and surveillance expert Linus Caldwell (Matt Damon), retired con artist, Saul Bloom (Carl Reiner), crooked blackjack dealer Frank Patton (comedian Bernie Mac), and explosives expert Roscoe Means (Don Cheadle).
The effort is financed by flamboyant, but embittered casino mogul Ruben Tischkoff (Elliot Gould) who is willing to take a risk on this mission impossible because of his hatred for the casinos' ruthless owner, Harry Benedict (Andy Garcia). What Ocean's eleven don't know, however, is that one of Danny's main goals, besides the $150 million payoff, is to win back his ex-wife, Tess (Julia Roberts), who took up with Benedict when Danny went to prison.
The movie is more about personalities than characters. Clooney plays a slicker version of the charming rogue from "Out of Sight" (his first teaming with Soderbergh)-- and MUCH smarter than his character from "O Brother Where Art Thou," who has a similar romantic quest.
Clooney and Pitt share tough guy banter as they set up the heist, and have decent chemistry. The casting may be of type, but it works-- Damon plays earnest, Reiner is a curmudeon, Cheadle is quirky, and Elliot Gould seems to be having more fun than anyone.
Clooney and Julia Roberts are very good together, generating some edgy sparks, and the scene where Danny intrudes on Tess and Benedict at dinner, bristles with angry energy.
But what really makes this kind of movie is the central heist. "The Score" had a very good one at the end of its routine set up; and "Ocean's Eleven" does too. While it is far fetched, it is smart; and Soderbergh keeps things moving, paying just enough attention to detail to keep the audience interested, without slowing the pace.
Of course, Stephen Soderbergh knows what a movie should look like, and "Ocean's Eleven" is no exception. This is a great looking film. A jazzy, cool score by David Holmes IV is also a big plus.
"Ocean's Eleven" comes by its PG-13 rating mostly because of some infrequent very harsh language-- apparently it's not cool to be just a PG anymore. That aside, it's mostly appropriate for kids old enough to follow the plot, as the violence is light, and the sexual relationships are mostly implied.