Movie review: ‘Ocean’s Eleven’ (2001)

oeIt’s not easy to do an adequate remake in Hollywood. Often times a remake is done simply because someone doesn’t have enough creativity for a project or that someone else believes that a past “name” means cash today. The folks behind the remake of “Ocean’s 11” from 1960 (click here for my review) knew what they were doing, obviously had fun doing it and did it well. So today I’m looking at the remade “Ocean’s Eleven” (the original is known by both word and number, but check the name issue in the review) and its associated fun as a buddy movie with George Clooney, Brad Pitt and the rest of their gang.

‘Ocean’s Eleven’
(2001; 116 minutes; rated PG-13; directed by Steven Soderbergh and starring George Clooney, Brad Pitt and Matt Damon)

UPDATING THE ‘RAT PACK’ … WELL DONE

Caper movies are always fun and when you throw in a group of actors having fun making the fun, it can work out perfectly. The original “Ocean’s 11” in 1960 (click here for my review) showed the way with Frank, Dean and the boys having fun in Las Vegas. Fast forward two generations and you get the wonderful “Ocean’s Eleven” with George, Brad and the boys. Both are good and I’ve already reviewed the original, so now it’s the remake’s turn.

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Now, I’m not a big George Clooney fan but he’s won me over with this one. I really liked Frank Sinatra and the Rat Pack’s original and director Steven Soderbergh and friends did a thumbs-up remake here. Soderbergh keeps true to the original while updating it without having to veer too far off course for the change over 41 years.

Just to refresh those cats not in the know, Frank and the boys were THE thing in 1960. They were in film, music, TV and just about everywhere you looked. They were America on the rise: a diverse group that wasn’t out to do anything but entertain and have fun themselves. So their movies were fun and in “Ocean’s 11” they robbed casinos and were simply too cool while doing it. Now, it’s time again.

Clooney is the title character “Danny Ocean” and he’s just out of prison for some scam. His latest brainchild is robbing three Vegas casinos that share an underground vault. Clooney then puts together the financing and crew to hit that vault and the $160 million in it (that’s more than 10 times the haul in the original). The group moves forward in the plan with the expected aplomb and élan and overcome some hurdles just to show they’re not perfect. Hey, they even have to steal a nuclear-type device to set off near the hotel because it sends out electromagnetic waves that will force the shut-down of electricity. Wow! That’s some plan.

Just like in the original the actual robbery is complicated, intricate and absolutely could never happen this way. Since the crime is incidental to the guys, it really doesn’t matter, does it?

Clooney is suave, smooth and provides the Sinatra-like sophistication here. As “Danny Ocean” he’s confident, calm, collected and determined … but not only to rob the casinos but to get his wife (Julia Roberts) back and get back at casino owner “Terry Benedict” (played by Andy Garcia). It’s difficult to judge Clooney here against his strong effort in “From Dusk Till Dawn” since the horror film is so graphically violent that the gore, gunplay and sleaziness overcome the character. In any case Clooney is solid here and has recently been in “The Men Who Stare at Goats,” “Gravity” and “The Monuments Men.”

Second billed here is Brad Pitt as “Rusty Ryan” and he’s joined at the hip to Clooney. Pitt is as watchable as ever here as the easily bored crook who needs motivation above and beyond money for the crime. Pitt is eating something in every scene he’s in here and is so good he doesn’t appear to be acting. He has also been in “Fight Club” and Quentin Tarantino’s “Inglourious Basterds.”

Here’s a quick rundown of the other primary cast members:

  • Matt Damon plays “Linus Caldwell” and does the young, eager crook-on-the-rise very well. Damon has been better in more serious roles (such as in “Rounders” – click here for my review) but you have to remember this one is a little bit off the cuff. Damon has also excelled in “Good Will Hunting” as well as the delightful “Dogma” (click here for my review).
  • Bernie Mac is “Frank Catton” and is the combustible, outgoing member of the crew. He does a good job here with just the right amount of screen time. Bernie Mac has also been in the very sleazy “Bad Santa” (the uncut version is particularly odious) as well as “Guess Who.”
  • Carl Reiner plays “Saul Bloom” and is the key member of the crew who gets Garcia to put an all-important briefcase in the casino’s vault (it holds the explosives necessary for the robbery). Reiner clearly enjoys is role and is the elder statesman here. He was directed while acting in “Summer School” (click here for my review) and “Fatal Instinct” and tons of TV including an episode of “Two and a Half Men.”
  • Scott Caan and Casey Affleck play “The Mormon Twins,” who are “Turk and Virgil Malloy.” They are the drivers and jacks-of-all-trades for the crew and they do incessant bickering so well you’d almost believe they were brothers in real life (Casey is brother to the more famous Ben). Instead of more screen time here, the duo should have had their own sitcom. Caan is best known for TV’s “Hawaii Five-O” and Affleck was in “Good Will Hunting.”
  • Elliott Gould plays “Rueben Tishkoff,” who is the casino owner doesn’t like Garcia and finances the robbery. He is good here, but cannot distinguish himself because of the big cast. Gould was also in the war classic “A Bridge Too Far” (click here for my review).

Rounding out the rest of the crew is Don Cheadle as “Basher Tarr,” who is the explosives expert; and Eddie Jemison as “Livingston Dell,” who is the electronics expert. Both give solid, capable performances (Cheadle is just a little bit better, in my opinion) but are in too big of a cast to stand out. Cheadle, who is uncredited in “Ocean’s Eleven,” was nominated for an Oscar in “Hotel Rwanda” and Jemison has been in “Bruce Almighty.” Finally, Shaobo Qin makes his film debut here (and his only two others would be in the coming sequels). In real life he was a member of the acclaimed Peking Acrobats and that’s what his character “Yen” is here. It’s very difficult to get a handle on his ability as actor with such a small role (although he does do a great flip as well as flip a good bird).

As noted, Garcia is the bad guy here as the no-nonsense, bottom-line casino boss. Garcia does a good job as the cold, calculating “Terry Benedict” and has also been in the outstanding but little remembered “The Mean Season” and was in “The Untouchables.”

The lead female role here is by Julia Roberts as “Tess Ocean,” who is Clooney’s former and doesn’t want to get back with him. I’ve never been impressed by Roberts’ work (I just don’t see what the fuss is about) and I don’t see much here. She’s also been in “Pretty Woman” and “Runaway Bride.”

It all turns out good in the end for the guys … except that Clooney and Pitt are being followed by Garcia’s boys, so you know the story isn’t finished. Two more sequels will follow (actually I only count once since “Ocean’s Twelve” is a tremendously poor effort with the absolutely talentless Catherine Zeta-Jones).

Here’s a slightly rewritten paragraph about the name of both films from my first review:

  • One thing I couldn’t quite put my hand on is the meaning behind the name of the films. Both are “Ocean’s Eleven” in title credits and the original is also named “Ocean’s 11” on part of its credits and on its DVD covers. Make note of the singular possessive. In the original there is “Danny Ocean” and TEN others … or 11 if you count the money man. In the remake with Clooney, there’s “Danny Ocean” and NINE others … or 10 if you count the money man played by Gould (his is a bigger role than the one played by Akim Tamiroff in the original). So is it grammatically correct that it is “Ocean’s” 11 guys or a total of 11 in the gang? Either way, one of the films flubs the numbers game.

Similarities between the original and remake abound right to the end where members of the group walk out with a casino in the background or when Clooney tells Garcia he has connections with criminals and can find out who did the job (the link back to the Cesar Romero character in the original that wasn’t replicated here). How many you spot will reveal just how closely you watch (or watched) them both.

Ocean’s Eleven” was the eighth ranked film at the U.S. box office in 2001 with $183.4 million, according to Box Office Mojo. On a budget of $85 million, “Ocean’s Eleven” brought in $450.7 million worldwide, according to Wiki. The No. 1 film was “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” with $317.5 million and my favorite top 10 film was “Jurassic Park III” (click here for my review) in ninth place with $181.1 million. Other films from that year that I have reviewed are …

Assorted cast notes (via IMDb.com):

© Chuck Curry and A Gator in Naples, 2014.
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