'Ocean's 8': A shallow but enjoyable dip into formulaic waters
Ocean family gatherings must have been a trip. We can only imagine the clever banter over Thanksgiving turkey, all the cheating at Monopoly, the sly sleight-of-hand used to snag the last slice of pizza.
“Ocean’s 8” is about the other cinematic Ocean, the ever-dextrous Debbie, played by Sandra Bullock in too-cool-for-you mode, all glammed up and ready to narrate the assembly of a femme-criminal superteam, and the execution of a brazen heist at the Met Gala. Debbie is the sister of Danny Ocean, played by George Clooney in a trio of star-riddled frivolities directed by Steven Soderbergh in the early and mid-2000s. Her pseudo-redemptive story, helmed by Gary Ross (“Pleasantville,” “The Hunger Games”), is essentially the same formula. Where its conceptual casting is refreshing, the execution is familiar; the film is an entertaining diversion, visually adroit but rarely exceptional, somewhat squandering its impressive clutch of talent.
Danny, we learn, died while Debbie was in prison, but knowing that family, would you put it past him to fake his own death? She was hoodwinked and hornswoggled by a former lover and partner in crime, a tall-dark-and-shady art dealer played by Richard Armitage; he left her in the harshest manner possible: holding the bag on a scam.
While residing in solitary confinement, Debbie visualized every complication and contrivance of a plan to snatch a $150 million diamond necklace right off the collarbone of a gullible elitist. First step: lie to the parole board, a successful endeavor because she’s Sandra Bullock, a talented actress. Of course, Debbie can’t execute the rest of the plan by herself. Her first phone call is to Lou, a club owner bored with watering down vodka for her plastered clientele; she’s played by Cate Blanchett, officially given not nearly enough to do. That’s the formula - to crew up with disaffected and/or desperate women who could use a thick payday.
Her assemblage of criminal ladies includes: Helena Bonham-Carter in flibbertigibbet mode as a deep-in-debt upper-crust fashion consultant. Sarah Paulson as a multi-skilled thief, blase with her suburban-mom life. Rihanna as a computer hacker known only as Nine Ball. Mindy Kaling as an expert jeweler. And Nora Lum Ying (a.k.a. rapper/comedienne Awkwafina) as a shifty pickpocket.
Nobody has much of a character to play, and all are ultimately upstaged by a Anne Hathaway as the rube wearing the bling to end all bling. She’s viciously funny as Daphne Kluger, a pampered movie star enamored with the idea of wearing six lbs. of diamonds to America’s biggest, glitziest soiree. Hathaway has us believing Daphne deserves the public humiliation that’ll burst her snooty bubble; a scene in which Daphne blathers on about getting in a curtsy showdown with the Queen of England is exasperating to hear, and we sneer and disdainfully laugh in anticipation of her inevitable come-uppance. It’s relatively light lifting for Hathaway, but the movie’s only element inspiring anything resembling an emotional response.
Posed with the question as to why Debbie would hire only women for the gig, she replies, “A him gets noticed, a her gets ignored.” That’s the entirety of the film’s sexual politicking, from start to finish. Ross and co-scripter Olivia Milch show little interest in heavy-handed social commentary, probably for the better. Their goal is adherence to a previously established template, entertaining for being predictably unpredictable.
“Somewhere out there is an eight-year-old girl dreaming of being a criminal,” Debbie says, pep-talking her squad before the big heist. “Don’t do this for you. Don’t do this for the money. Do it for her.” The speech inspires a solid laugh; expect no more than this from “Ocean’s 8,” and you’ll enjoy it just fine.
MPAA rating: PG-13 for language, drug use, and some suggestive content
Cast: Sandra Bullock, Cate Blanchett, Helena Bonham Carter, Rihanna
Director: Gary Ross
Run time: 110 minutes