Much of the marketing for director Gary Ross’ all-female ensemble cast of the heist comedy Ocean’s 8 refers to the film as being the fourth in the Ocean’s series. It’s really a spin-off. And given how the story concludes, depending on box-office reception and overall popularity, the whole thing will no doubt continue to spin in a new direction; at least to a 9, maybe even a 10. Knowing Hollywood’s lack of enthusiasm for risk-taking and a studio’s desire for easily identifiable franchises, consider it a given.
Originally inspired by the 1960 heist movie Ocean’s 11 with Frank Sinatra and the rest of the Las Vegas Rat Pack, Ocean’s 8 begins and ends with Sandra Bullock. She’s Debbie Ocean, sister to George Clooney’s Danny Ocean (the Sinatra role in the original) and it’s clear from the outset that being a criminal is in the family Ocean DNA.
“If I were to be released,” Debbie explains to a parole board after serving more than five years at the New Jersey Women’s Prison, “I would just want the simple life.” She then adds, “You know, pay the bills.” Of course, she’s lying. That’s what she does. The moment she walks out, back into the real world with little more than a handful of dollars in her pocket, she heads straight to Manhattan’s Bergdorf Goodman and ingeniously cons the store out of giving her a handful of expensive beauty products. A saleslady even gives her the bag with which to carry everything through the Exit.
After that, without missing a beat, she cleverly extends the stay of an unwitting couple who had just booked out of a hotel and moves into their room. The next step is to gather together her team of larcenous ladies who will meticulously rehearse what’s required to steal a Cartier diamond necklace, one that’s worth $150 million, and spread the wealth equally among themselves. “How long did it take you to work this out?” asks one of the gang, Amita the jewelry maker (Mindy Kaling). “Five years, eight months, and five days,” replies Debbie, “Give or take.”
Like the trilogy of Clooney Ocean movies, the emphasis with Ocean’s 8 is on a world of elegance and style. The attractive characters move among the wealthy socialites of New York at the annual Met Gala, the fundraiser for the benefit of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute, ready to pull off the heist of the century right under the noses of real-life celebrities like Katie Holmes, Olivia Munn, Serena Williams, and Kim Kardashian. “Why do you need to do this?” asks Debbie’s partner in crime, Lou (Cate Blanchett). “Because I’m good at it,” Debbie replies. In reality, being good at it is only part of the reason. As things develop, included among the several twists and reveals is a story of revenge regarding the reason why Debbie spent five years in prison in the first place. But, like the outcome, that’s something for audiences to discover for themselves.
In addition to Bullock, Blanchett, and Kaling, there’s also Anne Hathaway, Sarah Paulson, singer Rihanna, rapper Awkwafina (real name Nora Lum), and Helena Bonham Carter. And in keeping with the Clooney trilogy where Dan Cheadle delivered one of the most hilariously knee-slappingly awful London accents ever on film, Bonham Carter’s character speaks with a peculiar Irish accent. It’s not as painful as listening to Cheadle’s cockney, but it sounds odd, all the same. With a cast like this, one that also includes James Corden as a crack English insurance agent, flown in from London to investigate the crime, and annoyed that he’s having to miss an Arsenal football match, expectations of something special is high. Here’s the problem.
For a film billed as a comedy, Ocean’s 8 isn’t particularly funny. There’s mild amusement in watching Bullock maneuvering around upscale stores stealing beauty products, and there’s an element of fun watching an audacious heist in operation, but there’s little to no wit in either the dialog or the situations. And no one leaves an impression, not even Bullock who is at the center of most of the scenes. There’s no reason to side with any of the women and hope they get away with it, other than they’re played by performers you might like.
Like a well oiled machine, the film is slick, but anything resembling a real conflict, one that has you leaning forward in your seat, questioning whether they’ll succeed, is absent. The whole affair just goes through the motions, ending with the stylish raising of a martini glass that was stirred when you had hoped for things to be just a little more shaken. Watching the actors talk of the fun they had on set and the camaraderie felt while filming may well be true, but it doesn’t come across on screen. It’s intriguing without being exciting. Perhaps in its effort to be classy, even chic, an edge was lost. The end result is underwhelming. Ocean’s 8 simply never takes off.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 Length: 110 Minutes Overall Rating: 5 (out of 10)