Female bravado is on full display in “Ocean’s 8,” the all-women version of Steven Soderbergh’s money-minting heist films. It’s stacked with swagger in Oscar-winners Sandra Bullock, Cate Blanchett and Anne Hathaway, all backed by a diverse ensemble (Mindy Kaling, Rihanna, Awkwafina and Helena Bonham Carter) loaded with girl power. It’s this cast of seasoned vets and engenues who make the movie better than what’s on the page — co-written by the movie’s director Gary Ross (“Seabiscuit”). For that, he owes the ladies a huge debt because his utter lack of playfulness almost sinks the whole operation.
If you’ve seen the previous “Ocean” movies, you know the template, except instead of George Clooney’s Danny Ocean we get his sister, Debbie (Bullock). The ex-con is the mastermind behind an attempt to pull off the theft of the century at New York City’s star-studded annual Met Gala — swiping a $150 million necklace off a celebrity’s (Hathaway) neck. Debbie has spent the last five years, eight months and 12 days planning the fool-proof robbery from her jail cell.
Upon parole, Debbie’s first stop is a quick knock-off at Bergdorf Goodman, where she nabs designer duds and then scams herself a ritzy hotel room. Next comes the proverbial assemblage of her partners in crime, a crew of cons, scammers and flimflam artists. Each lady possesses a distinct personality and particular set of skills: Wingman Lou (a wasted Blanchett taking over Brad Pitt’s role); hacker Nine Ball (a terrific Rihanna); gem expert Amita (Kaling); pick-pocket Constance (a scene-stealing Awkwafina); fashion-designer Rose (Bonham Carter, always solid) and the “fence” Tammy (Paulson, the best thing in the movie). Hathaway is on point in style and tone as the vainglorious celebrity with the “perfect neck” to wear the bejeweled Cartier weighing more than six pounds.
Each actress gets a moment to shine, a few more than others. But the film is really just a showcase for Bullock, who even speaks German and packs a one-two punch of charm and charisma. The weak link, I hate to say, is Blanchett. Her character doesn’t have much to do and at one point she’s absent so long I wondered where she went. On the flip side, it’s great to meet breakout star Awkwafina. Watch for her in the upcoming comedy “Crazy Rich Asians.” Paulson (an Emmy-winner for “The People v. O.J. Simpson”) is a total hoot as the stressed-out suburban mom trying to escape her felonious past but gets lured back into the fray. Aside from Debbie, the script (co-written by Olivia Milch) gives Paulson’s Tammy the most robust story. At least we learn she’s got children and a husband on the line if this operation goes south.
Each gal stands to earn a $16.5 million payday. Like the previous movies, “Ocean’s 8” gains much-needed momentum working up to the execution of the heist, which plays off as a well-oiled machine at the gala, held annually on the first Monday in May. Celebrity cameos are in abundance: Kim Kardashian West, Kendall Jenner, Heidi Klum, Anna Wintour, Katie Holmes, Olivia Munn and Common. Elliot Gould and Shaobo Qin, the contortionist from the three remakes of the original Rat Pack “Ocean’s 11” from 1960, also make appearances. James Corden, playing an insurance investigator, infuses the final frames with some energy.
With a plot this implausible (come on, it is), you need a director with some flair and imagination to overcome the contrivances. That’s not Ross. He sticks closely to the “Ocean” formula, meaning there will be a fun heist to watch play out, infectious banter, unearned surprises meant to catch us off guard, slick scenery, cool music and a reliance on the chemistry of the cast. Except, this time, I don’t think audiences will be fooled.
— Dana Barbuto may be reached at email@example.com or follow her on Twitter @dbarbuto_Ledger.
Cast: Sandra Bullock, Cate Blanchett, Anne Hathaway, Mindy Kaling, Sarah Paulson,
Awkwafina, Richard Armitage, James Corden, Rihanna and Helena Bonham Carter.
(PG-13 for language, drug use, and some suggestive content.)
Grade: B- or 2 stars