A Ho-Hum Heist Film
Although I usually enjoy a heist film as much as anyone, I dozed off three times while trying to watch Ocean’s Eleven --- and it was only one o’clock in the afternoon! Star power represented by George Clooney, Julia Roberts, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, and Don Cheadle didn’t help a bit. Lack of character development and a tiresome plot dampened my interest in plans to steal over $100 million from three Las Vegas casinos.
Have I reached my tolerance level for films of this genre? Perhaps. How many have I seen in the past 12 months? First there was Snatch, featuring a much better Brad Pitt performance. Then 3000 Miles to Graceland, notable mostly for Kurt Russell’s dynamic Elvis impersonation in the closing credits, followed by The Score and Bandits, two of this year’s best flicks. (I missed The Heist.) Each of these movies met with my approval in varying degrees. But after Ocean’s Eleven, I feel like groaning “Enough already.”
Why remake a film as bad as the 1960 original anyway? As I recall, it had the same effect on me. I found nothing exciting about Frank Sinatra and his Rat Pack pals Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., and Peter Lawford being “cool” together while plotting to rob five Las Vegas casinos on New Year’s Eve. The best part of that movie was Dean Martin’s rendition of “Ain’t Love a Kick in the Head?” Too bad no musical numbers survive in the latest version.
This time around Clooney (O Brother, Where Art Thou?) plays the Sinatra role of Danny Ocean, a charismatic thief who recruits an 11-man crew of specialists for the Las Vegas heist. And that’s a big problem for me. At least in the original film, I could understand why this group of men would be willing to work together. They were all buddies from the same World War II commando outfit. But, in the remake, nothing explains why they would risk so much for Ocean, who may or may not have an ulterior motive involving his ex-wife (Julia Roberts) and her new lover (Andy Garcia), the man who owns the casinos in question.
Director Steven Soderbergh (Oscar-winner for Traffic) spent considerable time focusing on the way Ocean assembled his crew. “I think that any movie, whether it’s The Sting or Big Deal on Madonna Street, part of the joy in a caper is seeing the team being put together,” he explains. “It’s fun seeing who they are going to get, what they are like and how they are going to work together.”
Maybe. But not when you take most of the film to do it. And not when the characters are so blah, if not downright ridiculous. Veteran actors Elliott Gould (M.A.S.H.) and Carl Reiner (It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World) receive the most humiliating treatment --- with Gould baring his hairy chest as an old-style Vegas hotel magnate and Reiner doing a caricature of a down-and-out Florida con man.
Roberts, who appears in only a few scenes, shows none of the spark she projected in her Oscar-winning portrayal of Erin Brockovich. Damon (Good Will Hunting) acts like he realizes there’s nothing challenging about playing “the new kid on the block.” Pitt (Fight Club) doesn’t have much to do as Ocean’s right hand man --- but he looks yummy, as usual. Clooney coasts through most of his scenes, probably attempting a Sinatra-like “cool” attitude (which didn’t work for me.) In the Sammy Davis Jr. “munitions expert” role, talented Don Cheadle (Traffic) seems miscast, probably because of that unusual British accent he adopted for the part.
The only bright spot in this Ocean’s Eleven is Andy Garcia (Things To Do in Denver When You’re Dead). I perked up whenever he came on screen. Smoldering and suave as the villain of the piece, Garcia almost makes the remake worth seeing. His soft-spoken portrayal of a ruthless businessman with control issues stands out like a pearl among lumps of coal.
Finally, we come to the heist itself. While it includes a couple of twists and surprises, I wasn’t involved enough with the characters to care whether they succeeded or not. And it took so long to get there! At the end of the movie, I couldn’t help thinking about Danny Ocean’s question to each of his potential partners in crime --- “Are you in or out?” Regarding Ocean’s Eleven, I’m definitely out.
(Released by Warner Bros. and rated “PG-13” for some language and sexual content.)