Ocean's Eleven
directed by Lewis Milestone
(Warner Bros., 1960)

Ocean's Eleven
directed by Steven Soderbergh
(Warner Bros., 2001)

As much as Las Vegas is trying to revamp its image as a destination for both swinging gamblers and more traditional family units, the buzz that surrounded Vegas in 1960 just seems more natural. The wonder of a city of lights in the desert, the novelty of cocktails in leatherette booths, the thrill of a slightly naughty showgirl routine are harder to duplicate today.

It was that year that the first Ocean's Eleven was released, a story about a big casino heist, and it featured a cast that really, truly, was at the center of Vegas nightlife: Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr. all were featured; Peter Lawford, Angie Dickinson, Joey Bishop, Caesar Romero and George Raft all did their part.

They were cool. They were suave. They were Vegas, in real life.

George Clooney, Matt Damon, Brad Pitt and Julia Roberts all are huge, but they're not Vegas huge, unless you give George Clooney credit for his Aunt Rosemary's career. So they don't have that built-in cache to make 2001's Ocean's Eleven seem like a natural.

What they do have, though, is a bantering, back-and-forth script, terse explanations and an L.A. style all their own that makes the new Ocean's Eleven lots of fun.

The plot's pretty basic: Danny Ocean, newly released from jail, puts together a crew of criminals big and small to rob some Las Vegas casinos. Part of it's for the money. And maybe a bigger part of it is to punish casino owner Terry Benedict (Andy Garcia), who's made the moves on Ocean's ex-wife.

It takes maybe 10 minutes of movie time to assemble the Gang of Eleven, and all those pesky details like background checks and demonstrations of loyalty are swept aside. They're not going to make the plot move any faster, or get Ocean any closer to his ex Tess (Roberts) or to their millions in casino cash.

The intricate robbery plan, too, seems to have been worked out by Ocean alone in his jail cell, and things come together with a speed that's never found in real life. And never a drop of blood is spilled, never a string of curse words crosses anyone's lips. So, there are holes big enough to drive a stretch limo through.

Who cares? You get Angie Dickinson dolled up for a fight scene cameo. You get a calm, detached Julia Roberts, which can be a relief. And you get clipped, tough-guy dialogue that's tailor-made for actors like Clooney and Pitt, who have a real rapport.

Danny Ocean, asking Rusty (Pitt) about an old colleague, mentions his name:

Rusty: Dead.

Ocean: On the job?

Rusty: Skin cancer.

Ocean: Send flowers?

Rusty: Did to his wife for a while.

Stuff like this cracks me up. If it does you, too, try out Ocean's Eleven.

[ by Jen Kopf ]
Rambles: 16 November 2002

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