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A Model Plan 

*Ocean's 11 (PG-13)
Warner Bros.

Director Steven Soderbergh (Traffic) goes for all of the sizzling Hollywood gusto he can muster in this snappy Las Vegas--set heist movie. Soderbergh's oft-quoted goal for Ocean's 11 was simply to give the viewer "pleasure from beginning to end." He aptly fulfills that modest demand with sprinkles of comedy, irony, suspense, tasteful music and enough eye candy to stock a worldwide chain of retail stores.

George Clooney masterfully helms the leading man spot while Julia Roberts never quite pulls off her role as sex bomb money kitten.

The title Ocean's 11 announces that you're going to see a large cast of Hollywood's finest thrown into a quick spinning plot. Indeed, careful attention is given to capturing the essence of each character during all three acts of the story. In the setup we meet Danny Ocean (Clooney) just as he's getting out on parole after almost five years in the clink. Ocean immediately seeks out partner-in-crime Rusty Ryan (Brad Pitt), who spends his time training would-be poker sharks by taking them for everything they're worth. In no time Danny introduces his $150 million plan to simultaneously rob the Bellagio, Mirage and MGM Grand Casinos in Las Vegas, all of which happen to be owned by one Terry Benedict (Andy Garcia) -- the man who stole Ocean's wife Tess (Julia Roberts).

Danny and Rusty pay a poolside visit to Saul Bloom (Elliott Gould), an aging (and flaming) Las Vegas bigwig to fund the more-than-ambitious scheme. A deal is struck to bring in the resplendent pilfering crew, which will total "11." Linus (Matt Damon) is a skilled but young pickpocket from Chicago, and Frank Catton (Bernie Mac) is a card dealer already working inside the Bellagio. Livingston Dell (Eddie Jemsion) is a geeky electronics whiz to Bashers (Don Cheadle), a safe-cracking explosives expert with a thick cockney accent. Throw in old-school con man Saul Bloom (Carl Reiner), circus acrobat Shaobo Qin, and goofy driving team brothers Virgil and Turk Malloy (Casey Affleck and Scott Caan) and all that's left is the magic allure of watching $150 million get squeaked past more security than the Homeland Security Ministry itself.

The action heats up when Ocean re-establishes his rocky romance with Tess, and a love triangle between them and Benedict turns into a significant leveraging device for the success of the robbery. It's here that Julia Roberts becomes the weakest link between two tough-minded men who, it seems, would demand more gravitas from the woman each calls his own.

Cheadle chews up dialogue and scenery like it was turkey stuffing; Brad Pitt makes life look more easy and fun than possible; and Clooney puts the "H" in handsome. Even the fairly one-note Garcia simmers with an anger that signals "trouble waiting to happen." But Roberts emits little more than an apparent desire to get back to her location trailer and be left alone. She just isn't any fun and -- as the singular definition of "woman" in the movie -- puts a damper on what should have been a sultry and imaginative character. The role of Tess needed an air of mystery and humor that an actress such as Laura Elena Harring (Mulholland Drive) would surely have brought to the part.

Still, Ocean's 11 is perfect in that it succeeds at what it sets out to do, which is just to be thoroughly entertaining.

-- Cole Smithey

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