Film/TV » Film Features

Be Cool

The stylish but cold Ocean's Eleven and the silly but middling Not Another Teen Movie.



If Steven Soderbergh has proven anything as a director, it's that he can give even the most regular vehicles a dash of artistry. A one-time darling of the indie circuit with his stunning debut (and unquestionably his finest film to date), sex, lies and videotape, Soderbergh has since gone Hollywood. Having found little to no success with his follow-ups (the little-seen Kafka and the moderately stirring King of the Hill), Soderbergh made audiences take notice with his stylish crime caper, Out of Sight. A neat heist flick distinguished by Soderbergh's innovative direction (the story unravels through an intricate series of flashbacks and flash-forwards), Out of Sight announced the director as someone who could make likable films with a hint of intelligence. And that's exactly what Soderbergh has been doing ever since. With Erin Brockovich and Traffic Soderbergh proved that while you can take the director out of the art house, you can't take the art house out of the director. But now, with Ocean's Eleven, it seems the exorcism is complete. There are no signs of Soderbergh's roots as an indie auteur in this glossy flick.

A remake of the 1960 Rat Pack film, Ocean's Eleven is obsessed with its own coolness. The tale involves an ex-con, Daniel Ocean (George Clooney), who endeavors to knock over three Vegas casinos for a hefty paycheck ($150 million) and the woman he loves (his ex-wife, who just happens to be dating the owner of said casinos). In order to pull off this impossible job (they need to by-pass a system relying on fingerprints, motion detectors, guards with submachine guns, and the most elaborate safe ever constructed), Ocean and his friend Russ (Brad Pitt) round up a crew of misfits from all over the country that includes a former casino owner (Elliot Gould), two Mormon brothers (Scott Caan and Casey Affleck), a British explosions expert (Don Cheadle), a Chinese acrobat (Shaobo Qin), a retired con man (Carl Reiner), a nervous surveillance expert (Scott L. Schwartz), a crooked card-dealer (Bernie Mac), and a young thief (Matt Damon).

Like the flawlessly elaborate robbery which it depicts, Ocean's Eleven is cold but fun. Aside from the jaw-dropping "they're really getting away with it" sensation it ultimately delivers, the film is a fairly standard hold-up flick that prides itself on the virtue of its leading man: It always keeps its cool.

An amalgam of potshots, gross-out humor, and cheap knockoffs, Not Another Teen Movie spoofs teen flicks with middling success, pulling off some zingers and adroit gags amid a barrage of misfired imitations. With almost no high school flick spared, part of the fun is simply identifying the base material (pokes are made at everything from '80s teen projects like The Breakfast Club to the resurgent wave of pubescent Hollywood fare like Can't Hardly Wait).

The action appropriately takes place at John Hughes High School (Hughes having written and directed some of the most beloved teen movies, including Sixteen Candles, Ferris Bueller's Day Off, and Pretty in Pink) where characters like "The Popular Jock" (Chris Evans), "The Nasty Cheerleader" (Jaime Pressly), "The Pretty Ugly Girl" (Chyler Leigh), "The Token Black Guy" (Deon Richmond), and "The Stupid Fat Guy" (Ron Lester, who in some ways is reprising his role, since he actually played the stupid fat guy in Varsity Blues) enact various scenarios stolen from a smattering of teen films. The bulk of the narrative is hung from the plot of She's All That: The Popular Jock makes a bet with "The Cocky Blond Guy" that he can turn the Pretty Ugly Girl into the prom queen. Along the way homage is paid to Cruel Intentions (the Popular Jock's horny sister tries to sleep with him and just about everything and everyone that isn't nailed down), Pretty in Pink (the Pretty Ugly Girl has an obsessed best friend a la Ducky), Bring It On (the white cheerleaders do a number with the line "We're black and we know it" in their routine which they didn't steal), American Pie (there's an awkward masturbating scene, a hot foreign exchange student who walks around naked, and a pact among three losers who want to lose their virginity), and Never Been Kissed (there's a 90-year-old woman posing as a high school student), to name just a few.

Although Not Another Teen Movie has an array of downright inappropriate gags (the scene where the toilet caves through the ceiling of a classroom and sprays the entire room with feces is particularly unfortunate), it's not without its funny moments (the abusive football coach whose every other word is "goddamn" is particularly enjoyable). And even though many of the film's best bits have been "given away" by its trailer, fans of the genre will still get a kick out of seeing their favorite films cut down to size. After all, imitation is the highest form of flattery.

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