Rated PG-13 - Running Time: 1:56 - Released 12/7/01

Ah, Vegas. Where the money flows like wine, the hookers are top-notch, and the criminals are handsome, clever, and oh-so-charming. At least in Hollywood movies like Ocean's Eleven, directed by rising superstar Steven Soderbergh, who received Best Director nominations for not one but two films last year (Erin Brockovich and Traffic, the latter of which he won). A remake of the largely forgettable 1960 rat pack movie by the same name, Ocean's Eleven emanates a kind of old-time Vegas style that makes it hard to realize it's set in the present, and though it gives a fun look at the planning and execution of a complex if implausible major casino heist, it is really little more than a standard caper movie. Its cast, an embarrassment of riches including George Clooney, Julia Roberts, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Andy Garcia, and several others, makes it seem vastly overstocked for its subject matter, but maybe this is Soderbergh's way of capturing the opulent feel that emanates from that glitzy, famously overstocked city. The director handles his text (by Ted Griffin, based on the 1960 version by George Clayton Johnson, Jack Golden Russell, Harry Brown, and Charles Lederer) with expert style, and the star-studded cast works together like a well-oiled machine. But there's little acting called for here, and this group is frankly overqualified.

Immediately upon his release from the Jersey State Prison, debonair crime mastermind and grade-A babe magnet Danny Ocean (Clooney) is already planning his next heist. And it ain't little. Operating in standard jealous husband mode, Danny wants to rip off three Vegas casinos (the Bellagio, the Mirage, and the MGM Grand) owned by Terry Benedict (Garcia), who is currently dating Danny's ex-wife Tess (Roberts). In order to pull this off, he will need more than a few partners in crime, so he contacts his old pal Dusty Ryan (Pitt) and they begin assembling their crew. Are you ready? There's inside man Frank (Bernie Mac), who works as a dealer; high-roller Ruben (Elliott Gould), who will fund the operation; bickering brothers Virgil and Turk Malloy (Casey Affleck, Scott Caan), serving as ace drivers; a computer geek (Edward Jemison); an explosives expert (Don Cheadle, inexplicably faking a British accent); a Chinese acrobat (Shaobo Qin); an elderly con man (Carl Reiner); and finally, a smooth, bookish pickpocket named Linus Caldwell (Damon). Have I reached eleven yet?

Together these guys enact the most painstaking, excruciatingly complex plan you could ever imagine, constructing working mock-ups of the casino's vault and security systems, recording fake video surveillance tapes, schmoozing information out of everybody who can't be bribed, and even swimming in raw sewage to make it work. Well, okay, the sewage thing was just for fun. With a total take in the hundreds of millions, each member is promised an 8-figure return for his trouble. Finally, while Ocean's other ten are doing their jobs and playing their parts to the proverbial hilt, their charming leader is busy using his big, er, screwdriver to pry his way back into Tess's cold, cold heart and make her forget her wealthy but Corleone-esque husband.

After taking a wonderfully refreshing break from routine in O Brother, Where Art Thou? last year, George Clooney has returned to familiar ground; in fact, all the principals (and the director, for that matter) are doing work they could do in their sleep, resulting in an eminently watchable film built on a very run-of-the-mill story. Ocean's is certainly worth a look, but don't expect it to effect a—ahem—"sea change" in your life. ****

Copyright 2001 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

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