Ocean’s 8 – Film Review

‘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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets – Film Review

Clearly emboldened by the success of his most recent bonkers sci-fi extravaganza Lucy, which turned Scarlett Johansson into a crime-fighting super-brain fuelled by magic drugs, Luc Besson’s latest returns to the genre for what might be his most outrageously ambitious movie yet. Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is not only based on a much vaunted comic strip (the Star Wars-Influencing Valérian and Laureline) and boasts enough eye-popping digital wizardry to rival Avatar, at $180million, it’s also the most expensively assembled independent movie ever released. In short, it’s a movie so colossally risky even James Cameron would need to think twice. The result is a surreal, neon candy-coated carnival of astounding imagination that’s irreparably marred by an almost complete absence of story or substance.

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Besson’s visual audacity must be applauded. Like a toddler who’s been handed a fresh pack of sharpies and unleashed on a newly painted wall, the writer/director doesn’t hold back from allowing every outlandish idea that pops into his brain to splurge onto the screen as he constructs a world so vividly extravagant it makes Jupiter Ascending’s gaudy opulence look shabby and understated by comparison. A fluorescent menagerie of wonderfully weird creatures, the planet of interlocking space stations that is Besson’s primary playground is host to memory eating jellyfish, gossiping platypus, a shape-shifting Rihanna performing a strip tease and much more besides. Every frame is overflowing with bizarre and bewildering inventions, it’s impossible to absorb it all in one screening.

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Not that repeated viewings are advised. For all the dazzling, ludicrously inventive visuals on show, everything else about this movie – the story, characters, pace and tone – thoroughly underwhelm to almost extraordinary levels. What little plot there is sees Valerian and Laureline (Dane DeHaan and Cara Delevingne), intergalactic space cops who protect humanity throughout the cosmos while engaging in clunky flirtatious banter, attempt to prevent unseen nefarious forces from destroying Alpha A, the bulging megalopolis that’s home to more than 8,000 alien species. It’s a story as thin and flimsy as it sounds, with barely enough action to pad out its two-and-a-quarter-hour runtime. And yet it still feels exhausting, largely because Besson can’t resist taking needless detours that stall rather than propel the narrative, just so he can justify unleashing yet another of his lurid creations onto the screen.

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As for the ersatz romance between Valerian and Laureline, it’s a stilted, overwhelmingly saccharine relationship that feels like it’s been ripped straight from the dog-eared pages of a Mills & Boon novel, including the creakingly cliched dialogue. It’s no wonder DeHaan and Delevingne struggle to muster enough chemistry to convince of their attraction. DeHaan is particularly out of his depth, woefully miscast as the swaggeringly suave action hero – a role so far removed from the pallid, peculiar misfits he usually excels at playing. Laureline, meanwhile, has been stripped of all her wit and intellect, leaving Delevingne with little more to do than scowl and make sarcastic comebacks while arching one of her impressive brows at Valerian’s cocksure antics.

There’s plenty of giddy delights to be enjoyed within Valerian and the Planet of a Thousand Cities. The only trouble is: as soon as the novelty of roaming around Besson’s phantasmagorical theme park has worn off, you desperately discover that there’s hardly anything of worth inside the enticingly psychedelic packaging.

Runtime: 137mins

Writer/Director: Luc Besson

Stars: Dane DeHaan, Cara Delevingne, Clive Owen, Rihanna