(director/cinematographer: Steven Soderbergh; screenwriters: Ted Griffin/original story by George Clayton Johnson and Jack Golden Russell; editor: Stephen Mirrione; music: David Holmes; cast: George Clooney (Danny Ocean), Matt Damon (Linus Caldwell), Andy Garcia (Terry Benedict), Brad Pitt (Rusty Ryan), Julia Roberts (Tess Ocean), Casey Affleck (Virgil Malloy), Scott Caan (Turk Malloy), Don Cheadle (Basher Tarr), Elliott Gould (Reuben Tishkoff), Bernie Mac (Frank Catton, Ramon); Carl Reiner (Saul Bloom), Shane West (Himself), Joshua Jackson (Himself), Topher Grace (Himself), Eddie Jemison (Livingston Dell), Lennox Lewis (Boxer), Shaobo Qin (Chinese Circus Performer), Scott L. Schwartz (Bruiser); Runtime: 110; Warner Brothers; 2001)
“If you ever saw a heist film before, this one has nothing new to add.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Steven Soderbergh directs a slick remake of director Lewis Milestone’s wretched 1960 military-style caper film starring Frank Sinatra and his Rat Pack. The new and less than grandiloquent Rat Pack, does the same Las Vegas casino heist by short-circuiting the Las Vegas metro area causing a momentary blackout in the casinos. It’s the same vacuous story, but with much better photography and a meaningless love story thrown into the venture as an afterthought to get a dame into the action. Soderbergh also does the cinematography and makes use of the fast-editing style he stole from French New Wave filmmakers, which seems overkill for this lifeless film. He makes Vegas a glittery feast for the eyes and offers a look inside the casino as a candy bar for the mind.
The acting is in the hands of a star-studded cast that features all these current crowd favorites: George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Julia Roberts, Matt Damon and Andy Garcia. Since there’s no tension, not even the big heist makes anyone sweat, so the only tension is to see if these cronies can pull off an entertaining film despite how there’s nothing in the script to suggest anything even remotely interesting is happening. In my opinion, the ones really robbed in this film are not the casino, but the ones who paid to see it thinking they were going to see some acting.
If you ever saw a heist film before, this one has nothing new to add. It’s a formula heist, done by-the-numbers on autopilot. Danny Ocean (Clooney) gets released from a New Jersey prison after serving time as a confidence man and is now a parolee. He then begins his plan to rob three casinos, Bellagio, Mirage, and the MGM Grand, on the night of Lennox Lewis’ heavyweight championship fight at the MGM. In the Bellagio vault there is $150 million, the receipts for what all three casinos hauled in for the day. All three casinos are owned by the ruthless billionaire Terry Benedict (Garcia), who is also dating Ocean’s ex-wife Tess (Roberts). Garcia is a one-dimensional heavy, while Roberts is the one-dimensional love interest of both Garcia and Clooney.
We’re stuck watching Ocean round up his crew of ten others besides himself, as each is rounded up in an unimaginative and tiring way. First there’s Frank, who is dealing blackjack in Atlantic City under the false name of Ramon because he’s an ex-con. Then there’s his former partner Rusty (Pitt) teaching poker to young actors in Hollywood. The actors playing cards are played by themselves: Shane West, Joshua Jackson and Topher Grace. The one banking the operation is Reuben (Gould), who plays a stereotype Jewish flaming fag role without distinction. Then there’s a couple of good old boys found in a Utah race car drag strip, Virgil and Turk, who try to be funny but can’t come up with anything funny to say or do. Livingston is the nervous technical guy; Saul (Reiner) is the classy octogenarian father figure living in retirement in Florida, who comes in for the action. Reiner plays the part as if he had indigestion. Cheadle is Basher, the demolition expert. He tries unsuccessfully to affect a cockney accent for some reason — I guess he wants us to believe he’s a Brit, but he’s not able to draw anything out of his underwritten character or ever convince us that can speak like a Brit. Then there’s the only amusing character in the film, a 95-pound Chinese Circus contortionist (Qin) who will be used to somersault into the vault. Matt Damon plays the inexperienced new kid on the team Linus, whose father was a well-known thief. Damon is a small-time pick-pocket who now has a chance to make his own reputation. I think the eleventh partner, who was not seen being recruited, is Bruiser. He’s used in the robbery to fake roughing up Ocean so that he has an alibi as the robbery goes down.
At best this is a so-so film (its only salvation is that it would be almost impossible not to improve on the former perfunctory version). It exploits the use of star power, but it still fails to come up with a story that has any spark and actors who have any soul. But then again, this is a movie about being suave and if you think Clooney and Roberts are cool — then you might find this film more bearable than I did. The only thing I wondered, was why a talented director like Soderbergh would waste his talent to make a junk-food film like this!
REVIEWED ON 12/13/2001 GRADE: C –