OCEAN’S EIGHT (Gary Ross). 110 minutes. Some subtitles. Opens Friday (June 8). See listing. Rating: NNN
Ocean’s Eight explains its gender-flipped conceit quickly and without making too much out of it.
Asked why she doesn’t want to recruit a guy for her multimillion dollar plan to rob Manhattan’s Met Gala, Sandra Bullock’s Debbie Ocean explains that men get noticed while women are ignored. It’s a cultural reality, and she’s going to exploit it.
It’s a great character point, and it efficiently marks Debbie as the equal to her absent brother Danny they share the same laser focus and eerie calm while plotting heists so convoluted and complicated that they’d give Jules Dassin nightmares. (Just google him, okay?)
And they both have blond besties who provide counsel as much as contrast: Danny had Rusty, and Debbie has Lou, played by Cate Blanchett at her most open-minded and easily amused.
But there’s another shadow looming over Ocean’s Eight that keeps it from measuring up to its leaner, more confident predecessors. It’s one cast by Steven Soderbergh, who set a high bar with his earlier trilogy that new director Gary Ross just doesn’t clear.
Ocean’s Eight tries very hard to replicate the savvy packaging of Soderbergh’s breezy, bait-and-switch entertainments. It has all the things we loved about them: snappy repartee, flashy settings, celebrity cameos, last-second cheats and reversals, all played out like a casual mess-around. But you can feel the effort.
Ross – whose credits include Pleasantville, Seabiscuit and the first Hunger Games – is following someone else’s playbook and it’s not the best fit. (Soderbergh would have been able to get the final half-hour to work, for instance, and I promise you he’d have made the very last beat land the way it’s clearly intended to.)
The actors are all clearly having a great time pulling elaborate scams amidst ridiculous settings, with Helena Bonham Carter, Sarah Paulson and Anne Hathaway getting the best moments and Mindy Kaling, Rihanna, Awkwafina and Blanchett gliding alongside.
They deserve a movie worthy of their wattage, and this just isn’t it. Maybe they can talk Soderbergh into coming back for Ocean’s Nine. Or maybe, I dunno, they could get a woman to direct it. That’d be worth a shot.