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Sharp acting, script make for entertaining ride

Review: 'Ocean's Eleven' a cool, snappy splash

By Paul Clinton
CNN Reviewer

(CNN) -- "Ocean's Eleven" is the cinematic version of a Happy Meal -- tasty and filling, not particularly nutritious, but generally pleasing for all. Smart, sassy and gleefully meaningless, this caper flick directed by Steven Soderbergh and starring George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, and Julia Roberts -- among others -- is quite simply a hoot.

A remake of the 1960 Rat Pack flick of the same name, "Ocean's Eleven" is a far better film then the original. Frank Sinatra and his gang didn't really intend to make a good movie; they were just hanging out, and it showed. Now, in the hands of Soderbergh and his own pack of all-stars, it's still just a piece of fluff, but a well-done piece of fluff.

The film opens with con man extraordinaire Danny Ocean (Clooney) being released from prison. Rather then mending his ways, he immediately contacts cardsharp Rusty Ryan (Pitt) with a proposal. Ocean plans on recruiting the creme de la creme of grifters and involving them in a scheme to rob three Las Vegas casinos at the same time, hauling in a cool $150 million.

Swingin' with the Rat Pack 
George Clooney and Brad Pitt star in the new movie 'Ocean's 11' (December 4)

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CNN's Lauren Hunter talks with the cast and producer of 'Ocean's 11' (December 4)

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RESOURCES Review: 'Ocean's Eleven' 'Ocean's Eleven' premiere 

He ends up with 11 (hence the title) of the best in the business, portrayed by some of the creme de la creme of young -- and old -- Hollywood.

Picture-perfect pros

It's a thrill to watch these pros do their thing, particularly Carl Reiner and Elliot Gould. These two Hollywood veterans are picture-perfect. Reiner is truly hilarious playing Saul Bloom, a retired flimflam man brought out of mothballs for one last heist. Gould is resplendent as Reuben Tishkoff, a former casino owner muscled out by Terry Benedict (Andy Garcia), an elegant and ruthless businessman who owns the three casinos marked for the hit. Benedict also happens to be the current squeeze of Danny's ex-wife, Tess, played by Roberts.

This connection is where things get interesting, since Ocean really has two objectives: hitting the casinos and hitting on his ex-wife. Knocking over the casinos will be the easy part.

Clooney is every inch the movie star in this twisty caper flick. Dressed in black tie, with his wiseass grin firmly in place, Clooney glides through this movie like a hot knife through butter. Pitt is perfectly pitched as Clooney's number-one sidekick, and the chemistry between the two stars bubbles.

Unfortunately, when it comes to chemistry, Roberts apparently left her set at home. Our lady of the $20 million smile keeps her trademark grin under wraps until the very end of the film. She, and assumedly Soderbergh, decided to give her character a strong edge, and she's unusually grim until the final frames. Her scenes with both Garcia and Clooney lack the sparkle that's evident throughout the rest of the film. But she's still a star, and she still holds the screen like no one else can.

Razor-sharp script

However, this ensemble film contains a number of brilliant small performances. Scott Caan (son of Jimmy) and Casey Affleck (brother of Ben) shine as a couple of bumbling brothers in on the con. Don Cheadle and Bernie Mac both have roles as grifters, and both take the ball and run. Damon as Linus Caldwell, a nimble pickpocket, has a role that expands as the film progresses, and he more than fills the part.

The script by Ted Griffin ("Best Laid Plans," 1999) is brimming with smart dialogue and razor-sharp plot points -- many of which only make sense in retrospect.

And behind it all is Soderbergh and his keen sensibilities about character and plot. No one knows better where to place a camera than Soderbergh, and his timing throughout this fast-paced film rivals that of a Swiss watch.

"Ocean's Eleven" offers good solid entertainment -- rare enough these days -- without being either smug or mindless. No, it won't tax your brain, and you may not be talking about it the next day at the water cooler, but it's great escapist fun -- and for that type of diversion, there is no time like the present.

"Ocean's Eleven" opens nationwide on Friday, December 7.


• 'Ocean's Eleven' official site

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