Like a vintage copy of Playboy, the original Ocean's Eleven continues to fascinate us ' all that late-Eisenhower, early-Kennedy swagger. Frank and Dino and Sammy and the rest of the Rat Pack basically phoned in their performances, but that was part of the movie's ring-a-ding-ding charm. They were too hip to actually try, too busy pursuing chicks and kicks. But the movie's thrown-together quality, which may have seemed irritating at the time, now has a time-capsule amplitude. See Frank in his orange mohair sweater, Dino doing that Victor Borge send-up of himself, Sammy trying desperately not to turn into the Rat Pack's personal lawn jockey. Those were the days, daddy-o! And the nights. After shooting the movie from noon to seven (the Vegas equivalent of nine to five), Frank and the boys would take over the Copa Room at the Sands for a musical Friars Roast that was so smugly entertaining that you almost don't want to reach across the years and let them know that rock 'n' roll is waiting in the wings.
The new Ocean's Eleven, which stars George Clooney and Brad Pitt and Julia Roberts (in the Angie Dickinson role), will not have much time-capsule amplitude 40 years from now, I'd venture to say. Though big, big stars, these folks don't bestride the culture the way Sinatra did. Nor do they form a pack ' rat, brat or otherwise. But they do know how to hold the screen, and it's a pleasure to announce that the new Ocean's Eleven, on a scale of 1 to 11, is a 9 or 10. Directed by Steven Soderbergh, who made Clooney a movie star in Out of Sight and Roberts an actress in Erin Brockovich, Ocean's Eleven ain't exactly one for the history books, but it does what it does very well ' i.e., fills the time after the popcorn's run out. I wouldn't call it a perfect score. There isn't enough danger in it, enough at stake for either the characters or us. But if ever a movie could be said to cruise down the highway at exactly the right speed ' not too fast, not too slow ' this is the one. It hums.
Soderbergh and scriptwriter Ted Griffin have taken the original story and stripped it down to its chassis, substituting parts from various salvage yards (Mission: Impossible, for instance). Clooney's Danny Ocean has still just gotten out of prison, and he still has a plan for ripping off several casinos after Vegas' power supply has been cut off. But the vault in question is now "as secure as a nuclear missile silo," which means that Clooney's Eleven don't have time to sit around the hotel room, tickling the ivories and the maids. Not that they don't have fun. The badinage between Clooney and Pitt (as Danny's right-hand man) is first-rate. And so is the esprit de corps among the other nine, with a special shout-out to Carl Reiner as a guy who looks like he belongs in a Florida retirement home but who could steal the spots off the Queen of Diamonds. The long-neglected Elliott Gould also does memorable work as a flamboyant ex-casino owner who's down on his luck. Draped in gold chains, Gould's a vision in body hair.
With an almost imperceptible smile on his face ' you feel it more than you see it ' Clooney presides over Ocean's Eleven. Swaggering isn't really his strong suit, suavity is. (Sinatra was self-involved, Clooney seems self-contained.) And that gives the movie just enough heart to get by when Danny attempts to steal his ex-wife, Tess (Roberts), back from the casino owner (Andy Garcia) she's hooked up with. Roberts gives her lines some snap, but she doesn't really make sense as a Vegas trophy wife; she's neither classy nor brassy enough. The script makes her the casino's art curator, which is a bit like being in charge of pinball at the Vatican. And you never sense that Clooney has actually swept her off her feet. Still, it's a great metaphor ' the casino vault as Roberts' you-know-what. And our boys pry open that lockbox like it was a one-armed-bandit with a loose screw. If I were the kind of critic who did such things, I'd give Ocean's Eleven three cherries. Jackpot!