Also published on Medium.
A quick warning if you’re coming to the female-fronted Ocean’s 8 in hopes of an ultra-witty, ultra-original confection. A spin on the 2001 hit Ocean’s Eleven, the lark does deliver on its promise of a gaggle of movie stars sauntering their way through light-hearted, velvet-lined shenanigans. But, rather fittingly, it only delivers three-quarters of its predecessor’s sparkling panache. That’s the difference between delicious, pure popcorn summer entertainment and a fine, fun time at the movies.
The familiar setup sets the tone. Debbie Ocean (Sandra Bullock) is our point woman, the estranged sister of George Clooney’s debonair Danny. On the verge of her release from prison, she assures the parole board that she craves “the simple life” and swears to be on her best behavior. Except that the Ocean family happens to traffic in excellent cheek bones and high-stakes thievery. What Debbie really wants to do stage an elaborate heist at the annual Met Gala in New York City. Surely you know the one. Couture and Wintour. What a perfect opportunity to steal some jewels. Specifically, a rare $150 million diamond off the neck of vain movie star (and party co-chair) Daphne Kluger (Anne Hathaway). In Titanic terms, the necklace is truly the heart of the Ocean.
She’s going to need some help. First she reconnects with her former partner in crime (Cate Blanchett) and if anything else, Ocean’s 8 provides ample opportunity to see these divine Best Actress Oscar winners strut the city pavement in smart pant suits. The pair then recruit a motley crew of criminals to ensure the job gets done right. A batty designer (Helena Bonham Carter) lines up Kluger as a client for the big night. A jeweler (Mindy Kaling) handles the prized possessions. A fencer (Sarah Paulson) reels in the equipment and works undercover on the Gala planning team. A computer expert (Rihanna) hacks into the security system. A street hustler (Awkwafina) swipes the merchandise. And if you’re doing the math, one more surprise master manipulator seals the deal.
The actresses are all suave and confident and carry out the plan with a more business-like attitude than their male counterparts. Bullock and Blanchett are the coolest customers, but they could have benefited from a dose of Clooney and Brad Pitt’s bantering charisma. (To be fair, most Earthly humans lack Clooney’s charm.) The comedic killer here is Hathaway’s self-obsessed movie star, an A-lister too caught up in her own reflection to see what and who is lurking behind her. On the other end of the spectrum, Rihanna’s stunt casting as a brilliant, no-nonsense hacker that can tap to the Met’s ultra-high-tech security system proves a distracting detriment. The fashion icon/multi-platinum-selling superstar is a woman of many talents; acting like Mr. Robot is not one of them.
The proceedings are briskly paced. And with Ocean’s Eleven three-casino hits serving as an obvious narrative blueprint, it’s no surprise that the heist itself the set piece de resistance. Director Gary Ross (The Hunger Games) goes to painstaking detail to recreate the black-tie affair. We’ve all seen the stars walk the red carpet outside the Metropolitan Museum of Art. This is a chance to witness what happens inside at the most fabulous ball in the world. The answer: banal small talk between Katie Holmes and designer Zac Posen and a fashion parade courtesy of KarJennners. Trust me, it works. What an escapist delight to see Debbie Ocean’s crew work their sleight-of-hand magic under these ultra-glamorous circumstances. Watch closely and you’ll notice a few Easter eggs among the diamonds.
You’ll spot cons among the cons as well. A juicy villain is sorely missed, as Bullock’s attempt to seek revenge against an ex is a snooze. And the ninth member of her squad might as well be Anna Wintour, who receives an unruly amount of screen time. Now the entire Heartland will be privy to the fact that the iconic Vogue editor in chief (and longtime Gala honcho) has a thing for Roger Federer. All the fashion and media industry in-jokes belong solely in a Devil Wears Prada sequel, if that.
These are all forgivable offenses. Audiences might not be as charitable when the leading ladies dawdle off-screen during the hapless last third of the film. In their place is James Corden hamming it up as a nosy insurance adjuster. If Ross is going to go to great lengths to avoid constant nods to his franchise’s past — this is what doomed the female Ghostbusters reboot a few summers ago, if you recall — then why introduce so many new characters in the home stretch? We’ve come to see t
he stars! Let them woo us, and let Cartier worry about the stolen necklace. Insurance is not our problem. Bullock is semi-retired at this point. Take advantage. Please.
The whole thing doesn’t add up to much. The Ocean’s movies have always favored style over substance, and this installment makes an especially quick mental getaway. That’s the ideal tonic as the temperature starts to rise. Still, if this mighty cast is going to get all dressed up, they should have somewhere a bit more special to go.
Ocean’s 8 opens in theaters on Friday, June 8
Also published on Medium.