When you’re nearly two decades in to updating a now 58-year-old movie, it’s not so much about reinventing the wheel as it is about delivering on audience expectations. And while I was expecting a few more plot twists, Ocean’s 8 is a safe bet for some glitzy summer fun. In the opening scene, Debbie Ocean (Bullock), Danny’s kid sister, is just being released from prison after serving five years for fraud. “I’ve got 45 dollars,” she tells the prison guard as she’s leaving, “I can do anything.” Relying on her conwoman instincts she’s soon back on her feet, meeting up with partner-in-crime Lou (Blanchett), and assembling an all-female team to pull off a diamond heist at the Met Gala, a scheme she hatched while serving time.
In a structure similar to Ocean’s Eleven, the bulk of the drama (and entertainment) rests on the setup as much as the execution of the crime, as each character is plucked from her straight life – though the third act drags when too much time is spent on the aftermath, and the wrapping is a little too tidy. Ocean’s fans may detect traces of previous films, whether in a seemingly stray bit of dialogue, a character cameo, or the sleepy yet charismatic wit of the lead – but director Gary Ross’ style is more along the lines of a high-gloss fashion spread rather than the red-light glow of Soderbergh’s sin-soaked underworld. Not much fuss is made over the fact that Ocean’s 8 excludes male criminals, and the reasoning is summed up in one rather casually stated line: “A Him gets noticed; a Her gets ignored.” This works double-time as it could refer to women’s more disposable roles in action films or the treatment of women in society at large, especially when it comes to pay. Yet the tone never veers toward the tokenism (“Here’s your girl movie, now quit complaining”) of, say, a Ghostbusters remake. This is a sequel – I’m sorry, spin-off – after all. The humor is built around the fact that they are women; they’re not just substitutes for men. When Debbie threatens her snitch ex with a homemade shiv it’s turned into a joke; it would never land that way if the gender roles were reversed. (I’m still working out if this is a good thing.)
The ensemble cast blends well (Bullock and Blanchett mimic the chemistry of Clooney and Pitt), but Anne Hathaway as Daphne Kluger, a socialite who serves as the “mark” in this con game, stands out as she basks in the spotlight and seems to thoroughly enjoy being free of her usual nice-girl tame role. She, and the rest of these powerhouse actresses, make being bad look damn good.
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