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Friday, December 7, 2001 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Movie Review

A winning spin: 'Ocean's Eleven' remake hits the jackpot with its star cast

Seatttle Times movie critic

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The Rat Pack partied all night long, and it showed in the original
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Need a good argument for remakes? Look no further than Steven Soderbergh's "Ocean's Eleven" and its brief homage to the 1960 original: a shot near the end of a gang of cons emerging one by one into the Vegas sunlight, the flash of the Strip behind them. In the original, it's an OK moment, following a fairly flat final twist; in the remake, it's a triumphant moment of sunniness, all the more effective for being underplayed.

Soderbergh's delicious new version of "Ocean's Eleven" boasts sharper writing (by Ted Griffin), quicker pacing, wittier visuals and a far-more camera-ready cast. Nobody looks tired or hungover here (as was often the case in the original movie, whose cast was notorious for nightclubbing until dawn); indeed, the new Gang of Eleven practically sparkles with energy. It's infectious, bright-lights-of-Vegas fun and goes down perfectly with popcorn.

In this version, somewhat tweaked from the original, Danny Ocean (George Clooney) masterminds a massive Las Vegas heist, in which he and 10 accomplices (all fellow cons) attempt to steal some $160 million from three Vegas casinos, all owned by Ocean's nemesis, Terry Benedict (Andy Garcia). Clooney and Garcia are well-matched; both effortless smoothies with slicked-back hair and soulful eyes. Julia Roberts, as Ocean's ex-wife and Benedict's current girlfriend, gets to wear Tiffany jewelry and watch them fight over her. Nice work if you can get it.

"Ocean's Eleven"

***½
With George Clooney, Matt Damon, Andy Garcia, Brad Pitt, Julia Roberts. Directed by Steven Soderbergh, from a screenplay by Ted Griffin. 116 minutes. Rated PG-13 for some language and sexual content. Several theaters.

The rest of the gang is a well-chosen pack of wickedly grinning guys, among them Brad Pitt as the ever-charming, ever-snacking Rusty; Don Cheadle as a cockney explosives expert (cracking a safe early in the film, he does an airy little pirouette, just for fun); and Matt Damon, looking as nerdy as he did in "The Talented Mr. Ripley," warily effective as a callow young con artist.

Even better are two old pros: Elliott Gould, sucking on cigars, is hilarious as old-school Vegas entrepreneur Reuben Tishkoff. In his first scene, he sports gold chains and a matching trunks-and-robe ensemble of mustard-colored paisley; he's like a walking piece of Vegas neon. And Carl Reiner plays Saul Bloom, a cantankerous geezer who's retired to Florida (where he's got "wall-to-wall and a goldfish") but is enticed back into the game.

"Ocean's Eleven" is certainly Soderbergh's lightest movie (he also directed "Traffic" and "Erin Brockovich," among others), but the director proves himself adept at the too-often-underrated skill of creating giddy fun. Never mind that some of the details of the heist seem implausible when you think about them — we're in popcorn territory here, and Soderbergh knows it.

Helped along by a nifty hipster score from David Holmes and an incongruous, but wonderfully appropriate, use of Debussy's ethereal "Clair de Lune," "Ocean's Eleven" hums along like a perfectly tuned sports car. The whole movie has the kind of unruffled, lazy sexiness of a George Clooney smile, and is just as irresistible. It doesn't have Sammy Davis Jr. singing "E-O-Eleven," but Soderbergh's brand of cool doesn't need it.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com.

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