Bullock-Led "Ocean's Eight" Rehashes Heist Movie Formula

In the eleven years since the curtain fell on Steven Soderbergh’s male-dominated Ocean’s trilogy, marginal progress has been made in neutralizing Hollywood’s big-budget boys club. Paul Feig’s string of female-centric blockbusters hit a snag with the delightful but divisive “Ghostbusters,” a box office stumble that makes the mere existence of “Ocean’s Eight” and its lavish, winsome girl power a minor miracle. Even at a discount, its starry cast didn’t come cheap, nor did its backdrop (New York City’s famous Met Gala) and staging.

The good news is that the film is on par with “Ocean’s Thirteen.” That’s also the bad news, making it a useless cut-paste job that functions as little more than an “Ocean’s” greatest hits film starring women. The cast deserves better. We deserve better.

Director Gary Ross (“The Hunger Games”) is not an especially stylish director, a handicap that makes the material feel even staler than it is. Sandra Bullock stars as Debbie Ocean, the ex-con con-woman sister of the allegedly late Danny Ocean (played by George Clooney in previous films). Upon being released from prison, Debbie decides to leap back in the game immediately, but for more than a $150 million Cartier necklace.

Her ex, a crooked art dealer named Claude Becker (Richard Armitage) pinned their unlawful escapades solely on her. Like Danny was in Soderbergh’s original, Debbie’s out for blood.

Cate Blanchett co-stars as Lou, Debbie’s right hand and an utter blank of characterization. Lou’s big introduction – which marks the beginning of a laborious team-building run that drags past the pic’s thirty-minute mark – comes inside of an upscale nightclub where she’s watering down dozens of bottles of vodka. Not exactly a riveting preamble. Pop superstar Rihanna fares better as an archetypal computer hacker known as Nine Ball, while Helena Bonham Carter imbues fallen fashion designer Rose Weil with considerable ditzy charm.

The rest of the team barely registers.

Anne Hathaway gets the piece’s showiest role as an A-list actress named Daphne Kluger – Kluger is used by Debbie’s team in appropriation of the aforementioned necklace – but Hathaway is essentially playing herself. Or at least leaning hard into the public perception. Meanwhile, the great Sarah Paulson wallows away as a wafer-thin thief-turned-suburban-mom, while comedians Mindy Kaling and Awkwafina stand in for the prerequisite jeweler and street hustler characters, respectively.

It’s not that the men of Soderbergh’s films were any more well rounded, but the screenplays were decidedly faster and fresher and the director found significant style in his cast of glib ne’er-do-wells. “Eight” only traces over “Eleven,” far removed from its inspiration and novelty, further removed from Soderbergh’s filmmaking chops. In 2001, star-studded team-ups were leftover relics from a time when stars were the reason people went to movies. (See the original-original Sinatra-starring “Ocean’s 11” from 1960.) By 2001 the event movie had rendered the notion quaint, if not yet archaic like it is in 2018.

It follows that “Ocean’s Eight” is a nonstarter. Viewers unfamiliar with Soderbergh’s heist movies (including last year’s rock-solid “Logan Lucky”) might find the twists and turns stimulating. But the core of Gary Ross’ film is undeniably musty. And, blessedly, female-heavy tentpoles are becoming less and less of a novelty. If, years from now, actresses finally seize equal pay for equal work and their share of the blockbuster game, “Ocean’s Eight” will seem downright cobwebbed. Its only real trick is sealing itself inside its own tomb.

-J. Olson

Rating: ★★ out of ★★★★★ (Not So Good)

Release Date: June 8, 2018
Studio: Warner Bros. Pictures
Director: Gary Ross
Screenwriters: Gary Ross, Olivia Milch
Starring: Sandra Bullock, Cate Blanchett, Anne Hathaway, Mindy Kaling, Sarah Paulson, Rihanna, Helena Bonham Carter, Awkwafina, Richard Armitage, Richard Corden
MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for language, drug use, and some suggestive content)