Film & TV

Ocean’s 8 Revives a Fading Franchise

Sandra Bullock, Cate Blanchett, Rihanna, Sarah Paulson, and Awkwafina in Ocean’s Eight (Warner Bros. Entertainment )
Sandra Bullock and Co. deliver just the snazzy, funny heist flick that one hoped they would.

Offended as I am by the Ocean’s franchise’s suggestion that women are only eight-elevenths as interesting as men, Ocean’s Eight turns out to be breezy summer fun, a larkish and adroit heist movie with some well-executed tweaks to a formula that had gone a bit stale in Ocean’s Thirteen. In other words, no, this isn’t a Lady Ghostbusters–style failure.

The elaborate swindle takes place at the Met Gala, the annual fancy-dress party that takes place each May. It’s a brilliant setting — visually dazzling, bathed in mystique, full of characters from snooty European aristos to Katie Holmes — and the impossibly complicated theft is smartly imagined, if hard to believe. (Wouldn’t priceless jewelry have a tracking device built in? I mean, my iPhone has one.) Career grifter Debbie Ocean (Sandra Bullock) perfected every detail of the robbery during a five-year prison term during which, alas, her brother Danny died. (I’ll believe it when I see the body; I was expecting a post-credits sequence, but there isn’t one.)

Debbie’s old partner in small-time scams, a biker chick named Lou (Cate Blanchett), would prefer to stay clear of trouble, but then she hears about the prize: a $150 million Cartier diamond necklace that will be worn to the gala by the arrogant but self-doubting movie star Daphne (Anne Hathaway). A wacky Irish fashion designer (Helena Bonham Carter), a Caribbean hacker (Rihanna), a professional diamond appraiser (Mindy Kaling), a fence (Sarah Paulson), and a street-scam artist (Awkwafina) are easily persuaded to join the squad.

Hathaway is surprisingly funny, recreating the mood rollercoaster of a pampered celebrity. Bullock is reliably likeable as always, Rihanna is cool, and Bonham Carter’s wide-eyed nervousness is amusing. The ever-brittle Blanchett, who in her lengthy career has never once, even for a single scene, let anyone forget that she’s acting, dammit, is only mildly irritating in this movie, not spectacularly so. As is often the case, she makes a meal of her accent, which this time seems to be cribbed from a movie about a 1970s cab driver. I have no idea why she made that choice, unless it’s supposed to remind us that she’s acting, dammit.

Ocean’s Eight turns out to be breezy summer fun, a larkish and adroit heist movie with some well-executed tweaks to a formula that had gone a bit stale in Ocean’s Thirteen.

Blanchett’s Lou flirts (a bit painfully) with Debbie, but Debbie dates men, such as the pretentious artist (Richard Armitage) who flipped on her when they were both arrested five years ago and whom, consequently, Debbie is scheming to send to prison in revenge. This is a job within a job that complicates matters considerably, and is very much a sign of unforgivable indiscipline on Debbie’s part, but then again history rewards the bold. At least the history of heist movies does. “What did you think we were, a bunch of pu****s?” Lou asks. As when women accuse men of being “douchebags,” or Samantha Bee calls Ivanka Trump a “c**t,” I find this all a bit confusing. Female empowerment somehow increases by using words associated with being female in a derogatory way?

No need to worry that Ocean’s Eight might be as hectoring, strident, overbearing, and progressive as Bee, though. There’s exactly one line in the script that sounds like it came from Bee, or an enduringly petulant Jezebel contributor, and it’s also the clunkiest one. “A him gets noticed,” Debbie Ocean declares. “A her gets ignored. For once, we want to be ignored.” Women get ignored? At the Met Gala? Where any men who bother to show up look sheepish and interchangeable in their nearly identical clothing? Women may be ignored in some settings, but red carpets are not one of them. Moreover, the line is completely out of character for Debbie, who in every other scene is totally in command, without a whiny or self-pitying bone in her body. You can feel the director, Gary Ross, straining to ingratiate himself with feminist critics who crave empowerment themes but at the same time are unsatisfied unless reminded that women are perpetual victims. This is Ross saying, “I’m with you, my sisters! Now back to the movie.”

Women (much like men) go to this kind of film for escape, not vapid sloganeering. If that line illustrates exactly how not to write for a blockbuster, though, a later scene undermines it beautifully. “Somewhere out there is an eight-year-old girl lying in bed, dreaming of being a criminal. Let’s do it for her,” Debbie tells her team. Samantha Bee should take note: If you want to make a point, try being funny instead of huffy.

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