**1/2 out of ****
(for language, drug use, and some suggestive content)
Released: June 8, 2018
Runtime: 110 minutes
Directed by: Gary Ross
Starring: Sandra Bullock, Cate Blanchett, Helena Bonham Carter, Anne Hathaway, Mindy Kaling, Rihanna, Sarah Paulson, James Corden, Awkwafina, Richard Armitage
(You can listen to Charles Elmore and I discuss Ocean’s 8 on Episode 8 of “The Bad and the Beautiful” podcast)
When rebooting a heist franchise, a studio tempts irony when the premise they run with revolves around jewel thieves utilizing a fake. And sure enough, Oceans 8 looks like the real deal at first glance but, under the microscope, it’s a cubic zirconia rip-off that doesn’t quite sparkle like the diamond it’s copying.
Such precise scrutiny isn’t actually required, though, to recognize that this gender-swap redux doesn’t have the shine or polish of Steven Soderbergh’s original trilogy.
Despite a superb cast that smartly switches out Clooney and Pitt for Bullock and Blanchett, and even creates a veritable OCU by revealing that Sandra’s Debbie Ocean is Danny’s sister, co-writer/director Gary Ross can do little but craft a pale imitation of Soderbergh’s sleek swagger.
Ocean’s 8 isn’t quite a missed opportunity (there’s still fun to be had here) but it’s not a maximized one.
Along with trading out the guys for gals, the 11 has been reduced to 8 (smaller, no doubt, in the hopes that sequels 9 and 10 will follow while keeping the all-star budget manageable). Ocean’s 8 kicks off the same way 11 does, with a parole board hearing that releases Debbie Ocean from prison after a five-year stint.
Like brother like sister, Debbie goes right into heist mode the moment she’s free. Indeed, she’s been planning the next big score for her entire incarceration. She reconnects first with her main confidante Lou (Cate Blanchett) who’s grown bored by living on the (mostly) right side of the law.
From there, Ocean’s 8 tracks a very familiar three-act structure: assemble the crew, pull of the heist, then maneuver the complicated fallout. The formula isn’t the problem; it’s been done, yes, but it remains a strong backbone, plus Ross’s script comes up with some ingenious schemes and curveballs along the way, if never quite anything so deliciously devious as you’d hope for.
But for a movie with these women, this setting (NYC red carpet gala at The Met), and this franchise brand, it generally coasts with a surprising lack of sophistication and style.
Energy and tension are also muted in a pace that glides along with casual ease, at times too casual. The laborious thirty-minute setup could’ve been cut in half, particularly as some bits feel improvised ad hoc and fall horribly flat (when Helena Bohnam Carter’s Rose tries to set-up Anne Hathaway’s A-list actress Daphne it’s a real clunker, so awkward it screams amateur).
More problematic is Ross’s straightforward visual palette, a digitally flat, partially washed-out canvas that never pops (when it should, constantly), with camera angles that simply document rather than glamorously frame. There’s some chic costumes and editorial segues but, those aside, the aesthetical heavy-lifting is done entirely by Daniel Pemberton’s beautifully modern jazz score. Hip yet elegant, it sounds like the movie you never quite see.
Even the cast often feels dialed back in Ross’s miscalculation of what constitutes as “cool”, but not Anne Hathaway. Ever since her Oscar win for Les Miserables she’s felt like an actress liberated, particularly of late in The Intern and Colossal, and here she relishes the role as the voluptuous but vapid Hollywood mark.
The movie needs to be more on her tempo, not Ross’s, but James Corden refreshingly is when he comes in as an insurance claims investigator who has a history with (and admiring respect for) Debbie’s deceptive talents.
Ocean’s 8 may not equal the value of its predecessor, but it approximates the potential just enough to pleasantly pass the time for two hours and even make one amenable for more. In the hands of the right director (perhaps even George Clooney?!) or another A-lister to give it that extra kick (like the return of Julia Roberts’ Tess Ocean in a clash of in-laws), Ocean’s 9 could finally roll the lucky 7.