15th Jun2018

‘Ocean’s 8′ Review

by Matthew Turner

Stars: Sandra Bullock, Cate Blanchett, Anne Hathaway, Helena Bonham Carter, Mindy Kaling, Sarah Paulson, Awkwafina, Rihanna, Richard Armitage, James Corden | Written by Gary Ross, Olivia Milch | Directed by Gary Ross

oceans-8-poster

“Don’t do it for me. Don’t do it for you. Somewhere out there is an eight year old girl, lying in bed, dreaming of being a criminal. Do it for her.” So goes the best line in Ocean’s 8 (or Eight, if you’re going by the opening titles), the gender-flipped sort-of sequel to Steven Soderbergh’s noughties heist trilogy. Unfortunately, though the cast are great and it’s entirely watchable, the film isn’t quite as deliciously subversive or as much fun as that line would suggest.

Sandra Bullock plays Debbie Ocean, the hitherto unmentioned sister of George Clooney’s Danny, who is now apparently deceased. Having just spent five years in prison for fraud, thanks to a scurrilous ex (Richard Armitage) who ratted her out, Debbie is anxious to get back in the game, so she puts a team together and sets about executing the heist she’s been planning since she got busted.

Debbie’s heist squad includes: former partner-in-crime Lou (Cate Blanchett), down-on-her-luck fashion designer Rose Weil (Helena Bonham Carter), suburban mum-slash-fence Tammy (Sarah Paulson), diamond expert Amita (Mindy Kaling), dreadlocked hacker Nine Ball (Rihanna) and beanie-clad pickpocket Constance (Awkwafina). The eighth member of the team is actually more of an unwilling victim, as the plan is to trick celebrity actress Daphne Kluger (Anne Hathaway) into wearing $150 million worth of diamonds at the annual Met Gala and then nick them off her. What could possibly go wrong?

As it turns out, not all that much, and therein lies the biggest problem with Ocean’s 8. Rather than opt for a bit of edge or subversion, director Gary Ross (The Hunger Games) plays it relentlessly safe, as if terrified of suggesting that his amazing cast of super-cool women are anything other than a hundred per cent competent at all times. As a result, the film completely lacks any sense of danger – the few hiccups that do occur during the heist are quickly resolved, with little to no fuss.

On a similar note, the script frequently feels like a wasted opportunity. Would it have killed them to suggest a hint of a romantic relationship between Bullock and Blanchett’s characters, for example? Or any of the other team members, for that matter? On top of that, the script only manages to deliver around fifty per cent of the expected pleasures of the heist genre – sure, the robbery itself is perfectly executed and amusing to watch, but you’re primed to expect a third act twist, maybe a rug-pull or two, and what you get instead is an extended cameo from James Corden.

That said, much like its predecessors (or at least, the first one), the film’s combined star power comfortably eclipses its flaws and ensures that the film is consistently watchable, even if it’s never quite as good as it should have been. To be fair, Hathaway is a lot of fun and is clearly having a whale of a time, riffing on her own exaggerated screen persona, while a scene-stealing Rihanna injects some much-needed attitude (“What’s your name?” “Nine Ball” “What’s your real name?” “Eight Ball”) and Awkwafina is very amusing as the wily pickpocket. Unfortunately, several of the funnier cast members – established comic talents Paulson and Kaling in particular – are frustratingly under-used, to the point where they’re barely even given any decent lines. In addition, Bullock’s performance is oddly stiff and lacks both energy and her trademark warmth, though she does at least get to bust out her fluent German, to fun comic effect.

The film’s general lack of imagination is also apparent in the way it deploys multiple celebrity cameos (there are blink-and-you’ll-miss-it appearances from the likes of Serena Williams, Maria Sharapova, some Kardashians and Katie Holmes, to name just a few), but fails to wring a laugh out of any of them.

Ultimately, Ocean’s 8 gets by on style, glamour and a general slickness, coupled with the fact that the cast are enjoying themselves so much that it’s practically infectious. But it’s hard not to wish it had been a bit cleverer and taken a few more risks. Maybe in Ocean’s Nine?

** ½  2.5/5

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