Ocean's Eleven
Directed by Steven Soderbergh
Written by Ted Griffin
Starring George Clooney, Brad Pitt



Ocean's Eleven

It must have seemed like a brilliant idea: Remake the old Rat Pack Las Vegas heist film with the cream of today's stars, update it by a factor of a hundred million to account for inflation, and give it to the hottest director in town - Steven Soderbergh - to shoot. Alas, as we say, somebody forgot to write the script (Ted Griffin). Everything is in place, waiting for the characters to show up, but all we get is shtick. Even that wouldn't be a problem if the lines were funnier or if the film's plot worked at all.

The story is simple. Danny Ocean (George Clooney), fresh out of prison in New Jersey, has conceived a master plan to steal $160 million from the combined vault of Las Vegas's three big casinos, all owned by Terry Benedict (Andy Garcia), who has also taken up a relationship with Danny's ex-wife (Julia Roberts), which is no doubt meant to add a human, emotional touch to the film. Danny rounds up a crew (of eleven, in case you're a little slow today), and within two weeks plans and executes - ah, but I'm giving it away.

What went wrong? Well, with a heist film the audience must believe that there is a reasonable possibility of success, if all plans are followed and everyone does his job. The tension comes when something goes wrong, when someone is betrayed, when the clockwork plan is somehow thrown off track. See "The Score" for an example of a heist film that works because its creators and actors stay within the limits of the genre. Here, nothing goes wrong and so the film becomes an endless stringing-together of actions leading to the heist. Some are cute, some are witty - the meeting with old casino owner Elliott Gould at his pool is delicious - and some are just bizarre, as we see Don Cheadle trying desperately to reach for a West Indies accent and failing. Two Utah brothers (Casey Affleck and Scott Caan) are fine as the drivers who can't stop commenting on everything they see and do, and Carl Reiner, as a retired con man, is brilliant.

But the film itself is an attenuated series of short scenes that never are given time to build, never involve us, and hardly even make us laugh. The film postulates that Danny and Rusty Ryan (Brad Pitt) are old partners in crime, and there is a subtle scene early on when Danny walks in on Rusty's class in poker for Hollywood actors, and Rusty deals a cold deck to let Danny pick up some poker chips from the marks. But somehow Soderbergh lets even that simple a setup get away from him by losing his focus on what's important for us in the audience to see.

On another, more personal note: I yield to no one in my love for Julia Roberts, at least in part because of that great wide thin-lipped mouth. But someone has decided to give her a beestung-lip look by outlining her upper lip so it appears to reach halfway to her nose, making her look like the third runner-up in a Julia-Roberts-lookalike contest.

The film limps along, never quite on target yet not quite far off enough to joke about. It comes and goes, and by the end it has gone for good.