Steven Soderbergh’s “Ocean’s Eleven” remake is a hard movie to live up to. Its starry charm was backed by a breezy and deceptively dense script full of memorable characters, dizzyingly complex logistics and lively filmmaking that even Soderbergh himself couldn’t re-create in the two sequels. But even the near-perfect “Eleven” was missing something major: women. You know, besides Julia Roberts, that blackjack dealer and the one exotic dancer.
So why not, 17 years later, fix that egregious oversight by gathering up a few award winners to keep that Ocean’s franchise going and acknowledge the other half of the population? If only “Ocean’s 8” were as fresh and smart as that first one. (Hint: It’s not for lack of star charisma or talent.)
Sandra Bullock anchors the cast as Debbie Ocean, the never-before-mentioned sister of George Clooney’s Danny Ocean, who has taken up the family business and prefers to work without “hims.” “Hers,” the movie explains, can go unnoticed.
And indeed, Debbie uses what could be a handicap to her advantage in a rollicking shoplifting spree at Bergdorf’s. It’s quite a bit of fun seeing her act the part of a wealthy shopper who tries to demand a refund for the items she’s just pinched from their shelves. Ninety percent of her method is simply looking like she belongs and taking advantage of the privileges that affords her.
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Don’t expect this level of class or gender commentary from the rest of the film, however. “Ocean’s 8” suffers from a bit of tonal whiplash. Half the time it seems to be veering into grotesque “Sex and the City” worship of brands and celebrity.
Debbie’s plan is to steal a $150 million diamond necklace from a vapid celeb, Daphne Kluger (Anne Hathaway), at the Met Gala.
The team includes Lou (Cate Blanchett), who dresses like a glam rocker and waters down well vodka for profit; Rose Weil (Helena Bonham Carter), a kooky past-her-prime fashion designer desperate for a comeback; a jeweler in a rut, Amita (Mindy Kaling); Nine Ball (Rihanna), a hacker in dreadlocks; Constance (Awkwafina), a pickpocket; and Tammy (Sarah Paulson), a suburban mom who can’t quite quit her white collar crime ways.
While Blanchett and Bullock are predictably solid in their roles, Hathaway steals the film with a wickedly on-point satiric turn as a spoiled star.
The celebrity skewering is first-rate, but, for the most part, if you’ve seen “Ocean’s Eleven,” you’ve basically seen “Ocean’s 8” too. Director and co-writer Gary Ross follows familiar story beats and attempts, unsuccessfully, to ape Soderbergh’s filmmaking style.
It also doesn’t help that the stakes never seem all that real in “Ocean’s 8,” and when an adversary finally arrives — a detective played by James Corden — it’s more for laughs.
There was a danger to “Ocean’s Eleven” and a thrill in seeing that team succeed. Here, none of the women seems to have any fallibility, and you never find yourself doubting that they can pull it off. Perhaps there is something subversive to the idea that all Debbie has to do is social shame two security guys from entering a women’s restroom, but we’re there for a something more elaborate, too.
That’s the overall problem of “Ocean’s 8.” It’s all predicated on the fact that women are often underestimated. But in making that point, it has also somehow underestimated the audience who still should be entitled to a smart, fun heist, no matter who is pulling it off.
Rated PG-13 for language, drug use, and some suggestive content.