When it comes to movies that are just plain cool, “Ocean’s Eleven” ranks high.
Director Steven Soderbergh’s 2001 remake of the slyly comedic crime caper — which AMC shows Sunday, June 7 — had a lot to meet on that count, since the 1960 original starring the Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin-led “Rat Pack” remains famous for the charisma of its stars and the glamor of its premise, the simultaneous robbery of several Las Vegas casinos. In the update, the plan is shifted to the night of a big boxing match instead of New Year’s Eve, but the story still works fine.
Top-billed star George Clooney had teamed with Soderbergh before, in the critically acclaimed “Out of Sight,” but they hit it out of the park in box-office terms with “Ocean’s” (which has been so enduring, it’s rare to find a month when it isn’t playing on some cable channel). The actor plays the newly paroled Danny Ocean, who calmly wastes no time regathering his old gang to set his latest scheme in motion.
And what a gang it is, a stellar group especially notable for Clooney’s easy rapport with Brad Pitt as his “first lieutenant.” Add such others as Matt Damon, Don Cheadle, Bernie Mac, Scott Caan, Casey Affleck and veteran talents Carl Reiner and Elliott Gould, and this is a truly impressive cast. Plus, as virtually the lone female among them, there’s a certain superstar the credits jokingly acknowledge with “Introducing Julia Roberts”; after making her Oscar-winning “Erin Brockovich” with Soderbergh the previous year, she’s cast as Ocean’s estranged wife, now involved with the humorless casino magnate (Andy Garcia) the fellows are targeting.
Whereas the first “Ocean’s Eleven” involved basics like dynamite in accessing the casinos’ safes to execute the heist, 40 years later, things were quite high-tech. Thus, evading scanning lasers and timing the activation of machinery becomes necessary (and fairly complicated) for the thieves, and much of the fun is in watching them apply their brainpower to outwitting modern security measures.
The huge success of “Ocean’s Eleven” launched several sequels, including “Ocean’s Twelve” and “Ocean’s Thirteen” (both of which AMC also has on Sunday) … and cousin-of-sorts “Ocean’s 8,” which flipped the gender equation and made the robbery crew all-female, led by Sandra Bullock (who starred with Clooney in “Gravity”) as Ocean’s sister.
“Ocean’s Eleven” is an entertaining blast that does very well by its same-named ancestor (whose Angie Dickinson and Henry Silva have cameos in the remake) while smartly reinventing the tale on its own terms.