Ocean’s Eight (2018)
110 min., rated PG-13.
A gender-flipped reboot worked for 2016’s “Ghostbusters,” despite its trolling haters, so why not one for Steven Soderbergh’s jazzy, ultra-cool, star-studded 2001 hangout caper “Ocean’s Eleven”? 2004’s “Ocean’s Twelve” and 2007’s “Ocean’s Thirteen” were slick, watchable larks but idled and coasted on the charisma and good will of its movie stars and splashy style, turning stale and lazy with a giant whiff of self-satisfaction. As those films were ruled by men, “Ocean’s Eight” is the distaff spin-off, led by Sandra Bullock playing the sister to the late Danny Ocean (George Clooney), and by comparison—and because of its own merits—it’s a breath of fresh air, breezy, glitzy and starry entertainment.
Prior to her release on parole from a five-year stint in prison, con mastermind Debbie Ocean (Sandra Bullock) pleads that she just wants to live “the simple life,” or so she says. Immediately after she’s freed back into the world in New York City, she picks up where she left off, effortlessly shoplifting in Bergdorf Goodman by pretending to return merchandise and working her magic to get a hotel suite for free. Debbie has another score in mind, only this time she won’t get caught. First, she reunites with partner-in-crime Lou (Cate Blanchett) and gets her on board to steal the Touissant, a diamond necklace worth $150 million that comes with extra security. They hatch a plan to get the six-pound diamond on the neck of movie starlet Daphne Kluger (Anne Hathaway), snatch it, and then replace it with a fake at the annual Met Gala. Of course, to pull it off, Debbie and Lou will have to round up a crew that includes Irish fashion designer Rose Weil (Helena Bonham Carter), jewelry maker Amita (Mindy Kaling), ace hacker Nine Ball (Rihanna), pickpocket Constance (Awkwafina), and profiteering suburban mom Tammy (Sarah Paulson). As a bonus, Debbie will also be getting sweet revenge on Claude Becker (Richard Armitage), the man responsible for selling her out and sending her to jail.
Director Gary Ross (2016’s “Free State of Jones”) may not have all of the stylistic pizzazz and directorial stamp that Steven Soderbergh brought to his all-shallow-style trilogy, but he keeps the pace fizzing along, even at the expense of character depth, and it’s the eclectic group of women who keep our interest in a heist film that can still work without dicey, life-or-death stakes. Screenwriters Gary Ross & Olivia Milch (2018’s “Dude”) do repeat the tried-and-true beats of a caper—the gradual assembling of each individual member of the team, the planning, the close calls, the third-act diversion hiding behind the curtain—but the dialogue has enough snap and the logistics of carrying out the heist at the Met are smoothly orchestrated and involving to offset the familiarity. With the aid of a female writer and a female-dominated cast, the script also has a shrewd throughline—“a him gets noticed, but a her gets ignored, and this time we want to be ignored”—that works as a timely comment on the world we live in without being heavy-handed. “Somewhere out there is an eight-year-old girl lying in bed, dreaming of being a criminal,” Debbie Ocean tells her team. “Let’s do this for her.”
Sandra Bullock is her cucumber-cool self and in complete command as Debbie Ocean, the brains behind the operation who turns up the charisma when the situation calls for it. Cate Blanchett serves as the voice of reason as Debbie’s second-in-command Lou, dressed as a rock-and-roll biker chick, and enjoys such a crackling chemistry with Bullock that one wishes the history of their prickly but affectionate friendship was more fleshed out. Each performer gets her moment to shine based on each character’s skill, including Helena Bonham Carter, delivering moments of loopy, neurotic comedy as quirky designer Rose; Sarah Paulson, innately intelligent as fencer Tammy; and Awkwafina (2018’s “Dude”), who has such an appealing, scene-stealing presence. It is Anne Hathaway, however, who comes away as the comic standout playing vapid, preening diva Daphne Kluger, a role that not only amusingly plays into the stereotype of an egotistical movie star but gets layered with insecurity and more intelligence than she lets on.
With such a dream line-up of talent, many of the supporting players would have been welcomed more fully written characterizations beyond their names and skill sets, as there is no downtime to see these women interact on a personal level or understand their reasons for taking the money when they have a job to do. Since the film is cut for time to get to all eight women, the fun they’re all having still rubs off on the audience and makes one want to spend even more time with them. If one just wants an escape to take in the to-die-for clothing and glamour of it all, the film satisfies on that level, but the sly statement it makes about the power of women and how they should not be underestimated gives it a much more valid reason to exist than the previous two sequels. Even as it carries on an established franchise, “Ocean’s Eight” stands wholly on its own. Debbie Ocean and her cohorts aren’t out to outcool one another like Danny and his entourage did; they support one another to pull off a job, and the viewer never stops rooting for these criminals to get away with it. This summer, these are the real Avengers.