Courtesy of Warner Bros.
There is a certain amount of flair you expect heading into a prestige-heist picture like “Ocean's 8.” There has to be a hook, a fair amount of shakeups to the plot in motion, and it helps if the top billed stars are having some amount of fun.
That's all these heist pictures ever are: a vehicle for big names to share the screen together. In it's own “shakeup” behind the scenes, Gary Ross (director of “The Hunger Games” and “Seabiscuit”) employs the same style that original “Ocean's” creator Steven Soderbergh brought to the roulette table. While Soderbergh has stayed on as a producer, I'd make the case that Ross has indeed put his own spin on the franchise, delivering a wholesomely satisfying entry, even if the routine feels a bit safe.
He's also got an A-list crew to carry out the con.
“Ocean's 8” begins just as “Ocean's 11” did: with a parole hearing. But instead of George Clooney's Danny Ocean appearing in front of the board, it's his sister, Sandra Bullock's Debbie, with raccoon eyes and gleaming energy that rivals some of her best work. She's smart, like her brother, and after claiming she just wants the “simple life” she emerges from prison with years of planning under her belt. The con-woman hasn't forgotten her roots and begins executing small jobs in department stores near Manhattan, but it's clear her days of 'petty' theft are numbered. She wants a big pay day and has spent her time away plotting a big heist and she will need a team to pull it off.
They'll steal a $150 million Cartier necklace from the Met Gala, and on the surface it seems simple enough, but the plan is more complex then that. The capers themselves is a mixed bunch, each possessing their own 'perks' and qualities: Debbie first reaches out to her former partner in crime, Lou (Cate Blanchett) and together they recruit a jeweler Amita (Mindy Kaling), hacker Nine Ball (Rhianna), a former fence Tammy (Sarah Paulson) fashion designer Rose (Helena Bonham Carter) and a crafty pick pocketer Constance (Awkwafina). Their hit is the event's celebrity host, an actress named Daphne Kluger (Anne Hathaway), whom they'll trick into wearing a pristine diamond necklace at the ball.
In itself, there's hardly any conflict outside of the heist. A tedious endevour that promises something more is lurking behind a hidden camera, only to follow a straight path to the finish line. Ross directs the caper very smoothly. In fact, almost too smooth. If you're sitting in the audience waiting for a big moment to stick out, you'll be hard-pressed to find one, because “Ocean's 8” is a film of little surprise, when a wrench or two would've been welcomed.
James Corden shows up late in the second half as an insurance fraud investigator tasked with identifying the culprits in the theft, but he only serves as comical fodder, and never earns his place on screen next to the heavy hitters. And when you're sitting next to Bullock, well, you're already at a disadvantage.
Don't let me fool you, “Ocean's 8” is a fine movie, that offers the escapism audiences likely will crave. Not to mention the costume design by Sarah Edwards is glossy eye candy, that is pure visual pleasure. But other than the inevitable, and solely predictable, twist in the swindle, the film hasn't much complexity. But “Ocean’s 8” knows exactly what its trying to accomplish, and is refreshing in these dog days of summer. This film wants to show the audience a good time, and (mostly) succeeds at those merits. Just don't expect it to linger in your brain two weeks from now.