- The Washington Times - Friday, December 7, 2001

Far, far better movies than "Ocean's Eleven" have been remade. Defending the integrity of the prototype in this case would be a joke; it was regarded as a stinker with uniquely extenuating circumstances in 1960: the first movie to unite Frank Sinatra with his Rat Pack cronies.

Somewhat incredibly, director Steven Soderbergh (the defending Academy Award best director, for "Traffic") and screenwriter Ted Griffin (the grandson of director William A. Seiter) have blown the opportunity to surpass a conspicuously flawed original. The klunky, glossy oldie preserves more glamour and entertainment value than the posh but problematic new edition, which can't seem to get its stellar cast and tricky caper plot into smooth working order. The "Eleven" of 2001 is rather like a car that looks terrific in the showroom but can't be trusted after the first 50 miles or so on the road.

The title of "Ocean's Eleven" alludes to protagonist and ringleader Danny Ocean. In the Sinatra version, he is a former World War II Army officer who recruits several war buddies into a robbery gang of 11, tasked with stealing the cash on hand at five Las Vegas casinos. D-Day is New Year's Eve, and a temporary power blackout is necessary to cover the thefts.

Sammy Davis Jr. did most of the heavy lifting when it came to sabotaging power lines, while also contributing the vocal on the title song. (Dean Martin has an interlude with one of the sorriest songs of his career, "Ain't That a Kick in the Head.")

Mr. Soderbergh's Ocean is George Clooney, and it seems a pity that the rapport they achieved a few years ago in "Out of Sight" can't be recaptured in this vehicle. Mr. Clooney is discovered as a burly con completing a stretch at North New Jersey State Prison. The new Danny Ocean is a professional thief and activates a master caper as soon as he's paroled. He confides in Brad Pitt, easily the cutest pretend felon in the cast, as a resourceful confederate and card player named Rusty Ryan.

The most enjoyable segment of the movie depicts the recruitment of Rusty and then the remaining Eleven. Elliott Gould seems an immediate, wonderfully extroverted asset as their financial angel, a former casino owner named Reuben Tishkoff.

Reuben has a grudge against the target of Ocean's superheist: a Las Vegas tycoon-mobster named Terry Benedict, portrayed by Andy Garcia and reputed to own the Bellagio, Mirage and MGM Grand. These possessions share a common underground vault that Ocean desires to empty on the night of an apocryphal heavyweight championship fight. The estimated take if the Mission Impossible succeeds: $150 million.

There are no precise equivalents between characters in the original and the remake. For example, the fact that Don Cheadle was an exceptional Sammy Davis Jr. in "The Rat Pack" should not lead spectators to anticipate a Davis reprise here. On the contrary, Mr. Cheadle's character, Basher Tarr, is a master safecracker whose most conspicuous characteristic is a cockney accent. His task exposes one of the script's vulnerable points: the need to depend on advanced electronics of a kind so esoteric that the devices defy compact and plausible depiction.

The role of the team pickpocket, Linus Caldwell, doesn't do much for Matt Damon, or vice versa. A set of fraternal pranksters, the Malloy brothers, entrusted to Scott Caan and Casey Affleck, merit more screen time because their bits are amusing and the Malloys emerge, belatedly, as versatile crooks, adept at quick-change role-playing as well as driving.

The addition of an acrobat, Shaobo Qin as a diminutive circus performer called Yen, seems a clever (and technically indispensable) touch until the caper itself appears to meddle ineffectively with his duties inside the vault.

Although the movie invites us to identify with the crooks from the outset, it doesn't play as fair with this insider status as the original film.

One understands that the filmmakers have surprises they want to spring on the audience during caper night, so the logic of being in the confidence of the Eleven must be violated.

I'm not sure the cost is canceled out by the ingenuity of the payoffs, which tend to be scrambled and disappointing.

There's a particularly weak fake-out involving Mr. Clooney, supposedly at the mercy of thugs in the hire of Mr. Garcia, who always suggests more of a pussycat than a menace.

Last but far from least among the blunders, there is Julia Roberts, who won her Oscar under Mr. Soderbergh's direction in "Erin Brockovich." Her Tess is Mr. Clooney's ex-wife and Mr. Garcia's current consort. As a cameo adornment to "Ocean's Eleven," she looks superfluous.

Mr. Soderbergh permits himself an epiphanic farewell around Vegas fountains after the caper is concluded.

To my astonishment, the original denouement, in which the gang was outfoxed by fate, turns out to be far wittier than the update.

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