REVIEW: Ocean’s 8 [2018]

Score: 6/10 | ★ ★ ½


Rating: PG-13 | Runtime: 110 minutes | Release Date: June 8th, 2018 (USA)
Studio: Warner Bros.
Director(s): Gary Ross
Writer(s): Gary Ross & Olivia Milch / Gary Ross (story) /
George Clayton Johnson & Jack Golden Russell (characters)

“Hims are noticed. Hers are ignored.”

The best way to reboot a franchise is via a sequel. It’s smart because of the connection whether it be setting or characters since familiarity allows us as viewers to settle in without having to relearn what the property intrinsically contains. Look at Creed—or to a lesser extent Star Wars: The Force Awakens—for the perfect example of how something like this works. Both are practically carbon copies of the original installments within their respective franchises and trade on nostalgia to place a new generation in the same mindset as the one their parents possessed decades previously. And when the time in-between is only seventeen years, you make a lateral move. Rather than focus on characters’ children, you look towards siblings or friends to carry the torch.

This is exactly what director Gary Ross and co-writer Olivia Milch do with the all-female Ocean’s 8. Just like Steven Soderbergh‘s original Ocean’s Eleven (itself a straight remake sans relation to its Rat Pack ancestor) with Danny Ocean (George Clooney) exiting prison only to make a beeline towards his former associates to reconvene for a flawless heist the likes of which had never been experienced, Ross draws Sandra Bullock‘s Debbie Ocean (Danny’s sister) as the recipient of early parole to recruit former partner Lou (Cate Blanchett) into a foolproof plan she crafted during her five-year stint behind bars. From there arrives a motley crew of criminals with crucial expertise to pulling it all off—some that Debbie and Lou have worked with before and others plucked fresh off the street.

What follows is three weeks of set-up to bring Debbie’s meticulous con to fruition. The job is diamonds: one hundred and fifty million dollars worth courtesy of a legendary Cartier necklace that’s been locked in a vault for decades. If these women can enlist a down-on-her-luck and woefully in debt fashion designer (Helena Bonham Carter‘s Rose Weil) to play their game and finagle her way into dressing über celebrity Daphne Kluger (Anne Hathaway) for the Met Gala, they can coax the jewelry out of hiding and onto her unsuspecting neck. From there it’s a matter of infiltrating the event (Sarah Paulson‘s Tammy on personnel and Rihanna‘s Nine Ball hacking security), forging a replica (Mindy Kaling‘s jeweler Amita), and making the swap (Awkwafina‘s pick-pocket Constance), before exiting without suspicion.

The fun of these films has always been the process itself, constant bickering between friends inside high-pressure situations, and many audibles needing to be called along the way once snags prove unavoidable. Ocean’s 8 complies by having them all. Whereas Soderbergh’s trilogy made a point to focus on the second trait for brilliant character development leading into infectious comedy, Ross finds his script leaning heavily on the first. Plot becomes the driving force here, overshadowing any little quirks or inside history that may exist. Rather than use past issues or recent evolutions to enhance dynamics, who these women are is always held as secondary to what they can do. It doesn’t help that three team members are wholly new and therefore devoid of built-in rapport beyond surface intrigue.

Sadder still is the fact that those who do possess it hardly find room to use it. Debbie and Lou are the only two allowed to let transparency infer upon action—mostly in regards to the inevitable involvement of Claude Becker (Richard Armitage), Ocean’s ex-boyfriend and the reason for her incarceration. Tammy and Amita have the potential to delve deeper having previously worked with those two, but it’s wasted for little more than the visual punch line of semi-retirement with the former and easy recruitment with the latter (Kaling barely gets two scenes of note in total). Instead we watch them go their separate ways and do their things. The situations in which they’re entrenched are often entertaining, but they’re always in service of progression rather than cohesion.

The jokes arrive as one-offs and can become tired hinging solely on attitude. Awkwafina and Rihanna are great, but no one could argue their roles aren’t superficial. It’s Bonham Carter who gets to do the heaviest of lifting as a non-criminal rolled into the endeavor through a sort of friendly extortion. We meet her devastated on the floor with an empty tub of Nutella and eventually watch her confidence grow to coerce a Cartier representative into doing the exact thing he doesn’t want to do. Hathaway steals the show with her parody of self-absorbed celebrity, Paulson’s left foot in domesticity and right in criminality leads to wonderfully funny juxtapositions (both in scenario and dialogue), and Blanchett exudes cool whether the script lets her be anything else or not.

Ocean’s 8 uses them all in service of its plot, the coincidences plenty in doing so. The style feels removed from its predecessors—Ross doing his best to copy Soderbergh’s quick-witted panache—for a more staid effect, but the charisma of the actors ensures we’re never bored. Add a few celebrity cameos as fictional characters (Dakota Fanning) or themselves (Anna Wintour gets the best self-deprecating mock job) alongside a couple familiar faces from the previous films and there’s always something to catch our eye and distract from the otherwise methodical progression forward. And Bullock is the perfect straight man to lead them through whether reacting with calm to potential problems or casually making up for lost time by eating everything in her path while telling Lou her plan.

So while it doesn’t reach the heights of Eleven or Thirteen, it knows what it’s doing and settles into a nice spot between those and Twelve. Ross and company isn’t inventing the wheel as far as heist films go, but neither did Soderbergh. He found a successful formula and sought to exploit it a couple more times for the type of low-risk blockbuster that projects the fun had by those onscreen. Bullock, Blanchett, and the rest fit into that same blueprint with ease, the rushed nature of their final act the only glaring misstep as convenience appears to usurp smarts. But we can look past it in the end and enjoy what becomes an introduction to women who now have a rapport to better utilize in a follow-up.


photography:
[1] Copyright: © 2018 WARNER BROS. ENTERTAINMENT INC. Photo Credit: Barry Wetcher Caption: (L-R) SANDRA BULLOCK as Debbie Ocean, SARAH PAULSON as Tammy, RIHANNA as Nine Ball, CATE BLANCHETT as Lou and AWKWAFINA as Constance in Warner Bros. Pictures’ and Village Roadshow Pictures’ “OCEANS 8,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release.
[2] Copyright: © 2018 WARNER BROS. ENTERTAINMENT INC. Photo Credit: Barry Wetcher Caption: (L-R) SANDRA BULLOCK as Debbie Ocean, CATE BLANCHETT as Lou, MINDY KALING as Amita, SARAH PAULSON as Tammy, AWKWAFINA as Constance, ANNE HATHAWAY as Daphne Kluger, RIHANNA as Nine Ball and HELENA BONHAM CARTER as Rose in Warner Bros. Pictures’ and Village Roadshow Pictures’ “OCEANS 8,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release.
[3] Copyright: © 2018 WARNER BROS. ENTERTAINMENT INC. Photo Credit: Barry Wetcher Caption: (L-R) JAMES CORDEN as John Frazier and RICHARD ARMITAGE as Claude Becker in Warner Bros. Pictures’ and Village Roadshow Pictures’ “OCEAN’S 8,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release.

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