The original Rat Pack version of Ocean’s 11 was a giant in-joke, one that, unless you were Frank Sinatra himself or one of his close cronies, you probably didn’t get. The notion of the kings of showbiz as hard-luck war veterans hoping to get theirs by planning an elaborate casino heist was pretty absurd, though it provided the Rat Packers with something fun to do during their downtime.
Fast-forward four decades, however, and we’re in a very different place, mogul Steve Wynn’s Vegas, an immaculate Disneyland of gaming, where nothing is ever dirty or malfunctioning or out of place. Into this arena step the new monarchs of Hollywood (George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Julia Roberts), and, like the faux-Wynn (Andy Garcia) they’re setting up to steal from, they are hospitable hosts who want to make sure the guests get their money’s worth.
Aside from the early sequence where a world-weary Pitt tries to teach a bunch of rising-young-punk actors (playing themselves) how to play poker, there are no in-jokes here; director Steven Soderbergh really does want to entertain his audience, no more, no less. Every cameo, every flourish of flashy camera-work, every bit of narrative sleight-of-hand, is there to make you feel you’re getting value for your ticket dollar. (Alas, this would not hold true of the two sequels.) Given such genial hosts and such expert craftsmanship, how could you not feel delighted, even to be swindled?