Gary Ross’ Ocean’s 8 has a paint-by-numbers approach that checks all the boxes it needs for your standard Ocean’s heist, more with style but less with tension and swagger.
Diamonds and jewels aside, the biggest heist that Ocean’s 8 pulls off in this gender-bender spin-off is to replicate Ocean’s 11’s blueprint and present it with gloss and glitter. Brisk cinematography, split-screen transitions, pan and zoom effects, snappy jazz music—Ocean’s 8 has all the beat per beat elements it needs to make it feel like Steven Soderbergh’s. Well, almost. The intro itself is a rip-off from Ocean’s 11: Debbie Ocean (Sandra Bullock), the estranged sister of Danny Ocean (George Clooney of the original trilogy), gets released from prison after a 5-year fraud sentence and immediately falls back to her old habits. What follows is an amusing scene of coyly stealing all sorts of merchandise in a department store while still looking great—you yourself will be tempted to do it. Duplicity runs in the family and this won’t be her last act of crime as a “newly-reformed” free woman.
Debbie reunites with her former partner in crime, Lou (Cate Blanchett)—the counterpart of Brad Pitt’s Rusty Stevens—and reveals to her the plan she’s been cooking up after all these years in solitary: an elaborate scheme to steal a $150 million Cartier diamond necklace which will be featured in the upcoming star-studded Met Gala in New York. To accomplish this, the two round up six more accomplices, each one with a particular skill set to offer: a speed jeweler Amita (Mindy Kaling), a suburban mom/smuggled goods hoarder Tammy (Sarah Paulson), a brilliant hacker Nine Ball (Rihanna), a pickpocket Constance (Akwafina), and a heavily indebted fashion designer Rose Weil (Helena Bonham Carter). The 8th member is actually an unwitting pawn – A-list celebrity Daphne Kluger (Anne Hathaway), who will be the bearer of the said necklace during the event.
With its talented ensemble and breezy pacing, Ocean’s 8 is very watchable. It unfolds like any other “Ocean’s” film: assemble the team, plan the proceedings, execute the heist and unravel the twist, with some side missions, roadblocks and double-crosses to keep the viewers happy. On a visual level, this film features amazing costume designs that flourish each character’s personality. That is not something I usually pay attention to so that means they really excelled in that department.
Standing side by side with the previous Ocean‘s films, this latest, however, is short of suspense. There is an absence of a solid villain to ramp up the tension. The job itself seems lackluster. In Ocean’s 11, there’s Andy Garcia and the crew’s goal of robbing three casinos in the same night. Apart from an inept security, the closest thing we have here as an obstacle is James Corden’s fraud insurance investigator who does not show up until the third act. Still, his character comes out more as a comic relief posing little threat. Also, for the most part, the heist goes smooth sailing and scriptwriters Gary Ross (also the director) and Olivia Mitch could have inserted more hiccups to the story, thereby creating more drama. Sure, Debbie has an ulterior motive of exacting revenge against her former lover Claude Becker (Richard Armitage) but this one plays out a bit uninspired and not nearly as compelling as her eccentric crew who are slightly underutilized in favor of this subplot.
In terms of character depth, one can’t really expect much outside the character introductions and surface-level personas when the film’s main selling point is its cast and its complex heist. Bullock channels her “brother” Clooney’s savvy and effortless sense of trickery, albeit with less charm; Bonham-Carter sticks to her well-known neurotic, Burton-esque persona; Paulson does her conflicted mom act who’s missing the kick of being an outlaw; Kaling’s and Akwafina’s comedic chops could have been used more; Rihanna probably has the fewest lines but it’s interesting to see her play against her stereotype; and surprisingly, Blanchett’s subdued semi-androgynous character hardly registers. Outside the crew, Anne Hathaway pulls off her own heist and steals the show as a pampered Hollywood star who’s full of herself but at the same time crippled with insecurity. Her performance is animated, sarcastic and sexy all at once.
Like 2016’s female Ghostbusters reboot, the existence of Ocean’s 8 is primarily for feminist empowerment. Debbie explains to Lou at one point, “A ‘him’ gets noticed, a ‘her’ gets ignored. For once, we want to be ignored.” What most of them share is the sense of frustration from being a woman: Debbie resents her former lover, Amita is irked by her domineering mother, Paulson is bound to her obligations as a mom, etc. The film may succeed on that level but it stops aiming for greatness and settles for a paint-by-numbers approach.
In the end, Ocean’s 8’s heist gets convoluted enough to be entertaining but not too contrived to work in the confines of reality (ehem, Now You See Me films). Most importantly, the film satisfactorily explains it: there are few forgivable loopholes in logic that won’t materialize in your head until your ride back home. What the film terribly misses is the high-wired insanity and ingenuity it’s predecessor has to offer. Ocean’s 8 might have stolen Soderbergh’s blueprint, but not entirely the swagger.
3.5 out of 5 stars
Distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures. Ocean’s 8 stars Sandra Bullock, Cate Blanchett, Anne Hathaway, Mindy Kaling, Rihanna, Sarah Paulson, Helena Bonham Carter, Awkwafina, Richard Armitage and James Corden. Directed by Gary Ross. Written by Gary Ross and Olivia Mitch. Runtime: 110 minutes.