Steven Soderbergh's "Ocean's Eleven" remake is a hard movie to live up to. Its starry charm was backed by a breezy and deceptively dense script full of memorable characters, dizzyingly complex logistics and lively filmmaking that Soderbergh himself couldn't even recreate in the two sequels. But it is undeniable that even the near-perfect "Eleven" was missing something pretty major: Women. You know, besides Julia Roberts, that blackjack dealer and the one exotic dancer.
So why not, 17 years later, fix that egregious oversight by gathering up a few Oscar and Emmy winners and nominees, a Grammy-winner and a buzzy comedienne to keep that Ocean's franchise going and acknowledge the other half of the human population? If only "Ocean's 8 " was as a fresh and smart as that first one. (Hint: It's not for lack of star charisma or talent.)
Sandra Bullock anchors the cast as Debbie Ocean, the never-before-mentioned sister of George Clooney's Danny Ocean, who has taken up the family business to varying degrees of success (we meet her in a parole hearing) and prefers to work without "hims." ''Hers," she later explains, can go unnoticed.
And indeed, Debbie uses what could be a handicap very much to her advantage in a rollicking shoplifting spree at Bergdorf's. It helps, of course, when you look like Sandra Bullock and you happen to have left jail in full hair, makeup and cocktail dress. But it's still quite a bit of fun seeing her act the part of a wealthy and entitled shopper who tries to demand a refund for the items she's literally just pinched from their shelves. 90 percent of her method is simply looking like she belongs and taking advantage of the privileges that affords her.
Don't expect this level of class or gender commentary from the rest of the film, however. "Ocean's 8" suffers from a bit of tonal whiplash. Half the time it seems to be veering into grotesque "Sex and the City" worship of brands and celebrity.
Debbie's plan is to steal a $150 million diamond necklace. In order to do so, she and her assembled team of savants have to first infiltrate the orbit of a vapid celeb, Daphne Kluger (Anne Hathaway), and convince her to wear said necklace to the Met Gala, where they'll steal it and divide the earnings accordingly (a cool $16.5 million each).
The team includes Lou (Cate Blanchett), who dresses like a glam rocker and spends her time watering down well vodka for profit; Rose Weil (Helena Bonham Carter), a kooky past-her-prime fashion designer desperate for a comeback; a jeweler in a rut, Amita (Mindy Kaling); Nine Ball (Rihanna), a hacker in dreadlocks; Constance (Awkwafina), a pickpocket; and Tammy (Sarah Paulson), a suburban mom who can't quite quit her white collar crime ways.
While Blanchett and Bullock are predictably solid in their roles and get at least a few memorable moments of worthy banter, it's Hathaway who really steals the film with a wickedly on-point satiric turn a spoiled star. It is Hathaway's Miranda Priestly moment, and could have only been made better had she gone full-meta and played a character named "Anne Hathaway."
The celebrity skewering is first-rate, but, for the most part, if you've seen Soderbergh's "Ocean's Eleven," you've basically seen "Ocean's 8" too. Director and co-writer Gary Ross ("The Hunger Games") follows familiar story beats and attempts, unsuccessfully, to ape Soderbergh's filmmaking style. And his glimpse inside the Met Gala makes that famously glamorous event look awfully pedestrian.
It also doesn't help that the stakes never seem all that real in "Ocean's 8,"and when they do finally get an adversary, in a detective played by James Corden, it's more for laughs.
There was a danger to "Ocean's Eleven" and a thrill in seeing that team succeed. Here, none of the women seem to have any fallibility at all, and you never find yourself doubting whether or not they can pull it off. Perhaps there is something subversive to the idea that all Debbie has to do is social shame two security guys from entering a women's restroom, but we're there for a something more elaborate too.
That's kind of the overall problem of "Ocean's 8." It's all predicated on the fact that women are often underestimated. But in making that point, it's also somehow underestimated the audience who still should be entitled to a smart, fun heist, no matter who is pulling it off.
"Ocean's 8," a Warner Bros. release, is rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of America for "language, drug use, and some suggestive content." Running time: 110 minutes. Two and a half stars out of four.