‘I’ll tell you, we’ve got some feisty women that’ll fight right back,’ Sandra Bullock warned potential online trolls ahead of her all-female reboot of the Ocean’s franchise. That neither she nor any her co-stars had to raise a fist in defence of their casting feels like an unexpected, pleasingly progressive step forward after the online vitriol that dogged that other gender-swapping reboot, 2016’s Ghostbusters. While reaction to its casting breaks new ground, the film itself feels trapped in the past. Stalking too closely to the tricks and tropes of heist move lore, Ocean’s 8 is a weightless, undemanding caper that just about coasts by on the wit and chemistry of its star-studded cast.
Leading the charge this time around is Bullock’s Debbie Ocean, the sister of a now deceased Danny, who’s just blagged her way out on parole after a lengthy prison stretch. Rather than reflecting on her life choices, Debbie wisely used her time inside to hatch a plan to pull-off the biggest jewel heist in history: nabbing a $150 million diamond necklace right off the neck of one of the world’s most famous celebs, Daphne Kluger (a gloriously bratty Anne Hathaway), at the Met gala. Bullock is excellent as the charismatic career criminal – the sheer ballsiness of the way she approaches her scheme is enough to make you root for her.
Of course, even someone with hustling in their blood can’t pull-off such an audacious crime alone, and naturally Debbie recruits a ragtag band of different skill sets to help. Cate Blanchett’s vodka-diluting bar owner is her right-hand woman. Helena Bonham Carter’s debt-riddled designer is positioned as Daphne’s dress-maker. Sarah Paulson’s frustrated soccer mom (whose garage looks like an Amazon warehouse) is on hand to move the stolen goods. Awkwafina is a slick-talking fast-fingered pick-pocket. Rihanna plays a pot-smoking hacker. And Mindy Kaling rounds out the troupe as a jewellery maker who just wants to escape the clutches of her overbearing mother.
Having assembled such an engaging, entertaining mix of characters, it’s a shame director Gary Ross traps them into such a spiritless, uninvolving movie. Ross tries to replicate some of Steven Soderbergh’s finger-snapping verve with plenty of split screens and funky transitions, but that fails to mask the unexciting story unfolding before our eyes. Potential pitfalls in plotting the heist are all-too easily navigated, the twists and turns are overly telegraphed (especially the ‘surprise’ reveal of Debbie’s eight recruit) and the biggest threat to Debbie’s plan going off without a hitch is a pot-smoking bus boy. Even the arrival of James Corden‘s gratingly English insurance investigator fails to turn up the heat on our hustlers.
With so little jeopardy, Ocean’s 8’s biggest thrill is finally seeing a film devoted to the exploits of a group of cool female criminals who get by on their guts, guile and smarts alone. No wonder the internet trolls stayed away: these women are a formidable bunch. It’s just a shame they weren’t given more of a chance to show it.
Runtime: 110 mins (approx.)
Director: Gary Ross
Screenwriters: Gary Ross, Olivia Milch
Stars: Sandra Bullock, Cate Blanchett, Mindy Kaling, Anne Hathaway