Can we discuss the flaws of “Ocean’s 8” without it becoming a referendum on sexism, gender gaps and women in the film industry? Otherwise this is going to be viewed as an ideological lecture.
What we have here is a vaguely high-class movie hoping to ride an old franchise through a gimmicky new focus, featuring a cast that doesn’t live up to the pedigree of its predecessor. The result is the movie equivalent of intricate vintage glassware turned cloudy with dirt. Pointing that out concerning a female-centric project isn’t a matter of pompous mansplaining, it’s a basic consumer service.
A glam female reboot of the heist-happy, casino-robbing “Ocean’s 11” series, “Ocean’s 8” tries to be every bit as stylish and sophisticated despite losing much of the earlier chapters’ ironic magic. Largely devoid of wit, thrills and any reason for being, it is dumb fun minus the fun.
The story gives us our first — and, we hope, last — encounter with Debbie Ocean (Sandra Bullock), the never-before mentioned kid sister of Danny (played by George Clooney in the original series). Like most of her family, Debbie is a con artist with big ambitions. She has just finished spending five years in prison thinking about the perfect way to steal many, many millions at New York City’s star-studded annual Met Gala.
In typical gather-the-troops fashion, she recruits a diverse crew. They include task manager Lou (Cate Blanchett), tech whiz Nine Ball (Rihanna), jeweler Amita (Mindy Kaling), pickpocket Constance (Awkwafina), luxury fashion designer Rose (Helena Bonham Carter) and compassionate mom/highway robber Tammy (Sarah Paulson). Anne Hathaway is on hand as a pretentious, entitled heiress, a fashion plate turned unwitting accomplice as Ocean’s crew persuades her to don a $150 million diamond necklace from Cartier, which they aim to purloin off her swanlike throat at the gala.
The plot — which involves modified images from the Met Museum’s security cameras, vegetarian cuisine, bathrooms, heists within heists and a good deal of Rihanna tapping at length on a laptop computer — might have sounded intriguing in print. Onscreen it is about as chilling as an unplugged refrigerator.
Unlike Clooney’s charming scoundrel, Bullock’s Debbie has no major qualities beyond a savvy crime sense and a businesslike resistance to hogwash. She isn’t even an especially well-fleshed-out character. It’s a good moment when she exits the lockup, wearing a glamorous old evening dress like a lady on an unblushing walk of shame. But there’s not much insight into her other than that.
She’s not alone in that regard. All we know about Blanchett’s Lou is that she digs riding muscular motorcycles. As Amita, Kaling has a hotheaded argument with her mother. None of the characters are the sort of great villains audiences thrill to because they feel uncomfortably attracted to them.
The exception is 18-year-old actress/rap star Awkwafina, who has a Kate McKinnon comic ability to turn deadpan minor dialogue into something like back flips on a trampoline. But the rest of the cast underplays their roles, acting a bit too cool and collected, as if breathlessly hypnotized by the glorious look of writer/director Gary Ross’ (“Seabiscuit”) compositions.
It’s not a poorly made film. There are beautifully detailed images of swanky museum spaces packed with high society types. By contrast, the Las Vegas kitsch of the earlier “Ocean’s” movies looks like gritty realism. But the storytelling is brain-gougingly dull.
Alas, there is no blooper reel waiting to be exposed here. “Ocean’s 8” is the sort of film you enter with lowered expectations, only to have them dashed.