Boys Just Wanna Have Fun

"Ocean's Eleven" delivers what it promises: a gaggle of movie stars breezing their way through a brisk, glossy Hollywood entertainment. Unlike Steven Soderbergh's last two movies, "Traffic" and "Erin Brockovich," or even his superb Elmore Leonard adaptation "Out of Sight," this Las Vegas heist movie has only one purpose--to show us a good time. If you're looking for subtext and social commentary, you've come to the wrong place. These boys just wanna have fun.

The original Rat Pack "Ocean's Eleven" is and always was a big bore, however fascinating it may be as a document of retro gender attitudes (and retro fashion: Frank Sinatra's orange alpaca sweater may be the liveliest thing about it). The new version introduces its team of con artists in about as much time as it took Frank and Dino and Sammy to pour themselves a Scotch on the rocks. The mastermind of the scheme is ex-con Danny Ocean (George Clooney), who plans to rob $150 million--on the night of a Lennox Lewis-Wladimir Klitschko title fight--from three casinos run by the ruthless entrepreneur Terry Benedict (Andy Garcia). Benedict's girlfriend happens to be Ocean's ex-wife, Tess (Julia Roberts), a little detail Danny keeps from his trusted point man Rusty (Brad Pitt).

Among the specialists these two old pals round up for this next-to-impossible hit on the vault at the Bellagio are a Cockney munitions expert (Don Cheadle); a rich, gay hotel owner with a grudge against Benedict (Elliott Gould); a young but brilliant pickpocket (Matt Damon); a card dealer and decoy man (Bernie Mac); a crusty veteran scam artist (Carl Reiner); a nerdish computer whiz (Eddie Jemison); twin-brother auto experts (Scott Caan and Casey Affleck), and a Chinese acro-bat (Shaobo Qin), whose abilities to do back flips over electronic tripwires will come in mighty handy.

The actors look as if they're having a good time, and their playfulness is contagious (though some of the aren't-we-cool banter is too self-conscious by half). With his gold chains and oversize glasses, Gould is vulgar perfection. The scene-stealing Mac has a wonderful moment of mock racial outrage with Damon and Garcia, and Reiner, whose character poses as an Eastern European millionaire, seizes his sunset opportunity with crabby relish.

Soderbergh tends to get the best out of people (think of Jennifer Lopez in "Out of Sight"), and as "Traffic" demonstrated, he can make Hollywood stars into seamless ensemble players. Pitt is in fine form: playing a quick-on-his-feet card shark who's been reduced to teaching bratty Hollywood actors how to play poker, he's loose, charming and funny. Clooney had deeper notes to strike in "Out of Sight," but his relaxed suavity makes him the perfect host of this larcenous party. Roberts's anxious defensiveness doesn't make a dent in his unruffled charm.

Ted Griffin's clever screenplay comes up with some big third-act twists, but the plot is not one you want to examine too closely: there's less here than meets the eye. In retrospect, I'm not sure it makes any sense at all. No matter. Propelled by a jazzy David Holmes score, "Ocean's Eleven" bounces along with finger-snapping high spirits. This time out the versatile Soderbergh has cast himself as a sleight-of-hand artist. He's made deeper films, but this carefree caper movie is nothing to sneeze at.