Low tides in Hollywood
The new Steven Soderbergh remake of Ocean’s Eleven offers little compared to the original
The original, 1960 version of Ocean’s Eleven was a high-rollers’ lark, a swanky in-joke with Frank Sinatra and his pals in the “Rat Pack” playing around in an outlandish caper film set on “home turf"—the gaudiest of Las Vegas’ casinos. The new Steven Soderbergh-George Clooney remake would seem to have every reason to be an improvement on its predecessor.
But even with a large and attractive cast, the hottest of Hollywood directors, and no need for campy self-indulgence, the new version looks silly and shallow by comparison. Soderbergh’s version is fun, but much less so than the ‘60s version, and Clooney and company prove fussy and conventional in ways that make the older version look more substantial and seriously defiant than it every really was.
But even taken more or less on its own terms, the new Eleven is much ado about surprisingly little. The title characters are a spunky bunch of career criminals who set up their caper as if they were working out the cast and budget for a Hollywood film and then carry it out with such an array of high-tech hocus-pocus that they come off looking more like unionized movie technicians than the artful thieves they claim to be.
Way too much of the heist sequence is a matter of crooks watching their fellow thieves performing tasks via omnipresent surveillance cameras that they’ve hacked into, and the actual theft of the casinos’ vaulted millions is carried out in such convoluted fashion that we might have been better off just getting it all from a teletype machine. Worse yet, the story of the robber gets tangled more and more deeply in the effort of Clooney’s Danny Ocean to win back the affections of his ex-wife (Julia Roberts), who is now cavorting with the casino mogul (Andy Garcia) the crew is planning to rob.
Clooney is engaging throughout, and Pitt seems to be having an especially good time. But the list of really good scenes is surprisingly small—Pitt giving poker lessons to Hollywood ingenues, a camped-up Elliott Gould taking meetings, Clooney vamping for time after Garcia catches him talking intimately with Roberts.
The look in Clooney’s eye tells us that Tess (Roberts) is something really special, but the Roberts we see onscreen never seems to be anything other than a wary, calculating bitch. Carl Reiner does a couple of versions of his grumpy-old-man routines, and Casey Affleck and Scott Caan goof off as if they had been lifted bodily from an otherwise anonymous teen comedy. Don Cheadle, mysteriously missing from the credits, is stuck with a West Indies accent.
Maybe the oddest thing of all is that Ocean’s gang in 1960 was preposterous hipsters and alienated war vets. In 2001, they are preposterously professional technicians and high-tech outlaws who are looking to score. The white-collar guerrillas of the early ‘60s have become independent contractors using electronics to exploit the loopholes in the system.