Helena Bonham Carter
1 Hr., 50 Mins.
ecause its stars are so big, its cinematic antecedents have proven themselves dependably timeless popcorn movies, and its central narrative seems to promise the sort of sinuity that’s charming rather than overambitious, it’s only human to expect this year’s women-centric Ocean’s movie to set a new heist-comedy precedent. Enough years have passed to ensure its maker, the writer and director Gary Ross, avoids the mishaps that often undercut the breezy-albeit-materialist predecessors. And a movie featuring this expensive — and lovable — an ensemble seems primed for greatness.
Hopes have been high on the part of over-eager audiences for months. So much so that, weeks ago, the chances of Ocean’s 8 being as run-of-the-mill as the excusably one-dimensional Ocean’s movies seemed nil. That could also have to with the idea of a movie featuring both the strong-cheekboned Cate Blanchett and the chamelonically chic Rihanna being just effective seemed a far-fetched possibility.
And yet here’s Ocean’s 8, merely an efficient thrill machine as all the features making up the decades-old Ocean’s saga have been. It’s neither better nor worse than its forebearers, and is most sonically in sync with 2001’s jovial Ocean’s 11. It would have been nice if its gestalt stayed in touch with all the frenzied anticipation at least Film Twitter has perpetuated these last few months. But that the film exists as it does — often ludic and always competently made — in spite of its sometimes-maddening inconsequence, helps it get far.
It makes for the sort of unworried, perhaps unnecessarily extortionate would-be Hollywood blockbuster that feels just right mid-June. It’s a glitzy antidote to all the time-filling dreg Hollywood usually puts out for the first half of the year.
Fittingly, it begins with liberation. Its chief heroine, the perennially smizing Debbie Ocean (Sandra Bullock), sister to the George Clooney-portrayed protagonist of the Ocean’s films of the noughties, is freed from prison after serving five years. An intuitive grifter just like her brother — presumed dead — she’s looked at her time in the slammer not as means of rehabilitation but rather regeneration.
Like her sibling, Debbie believes no thrill can compare to the one you find in the scope of planning, and then executing, an intricate, Jules Dassin-style heist. So expectedly, little time passes between the time she steps out from the clink to the moment she starts her next criminal job.
It won't be a dime-store one, though. As she quickly lets on, Debbie has been mapping out the ins and outs of an elaborate robbery while wasting away in her cell. And she’s going to need an entourage as canny — and shameless — as she is.
Easily, she enlists the help of her old partner, the effortlessly cool bootlegger Lou (Blanchett); the stoner-chic hacker Nine Ball (Rihanna); the kooky, has-been fashion designer Rose (Helena Bonham Carter); the limber pickpocketer Constance (Awkwafina); the benevolent profiteer Tammy (Sarah Paulson); and the low-level jewelry designer Amita (Mindy Kaling). All agree to whatever vague plans Debbie divulges early on, both because her rep’s good (save for that whole interlude in prison) and because the financial benefits are tempting.
When Debbie later reveals what she’s been preparing in exposition style, her confidence is palpable. The location of the heist will be the exclusive, high-security Met Gala event. The victim will be Daphne (Anne Hathaway, hilarious), an inflated actress. The prize will be priceless jewels to be worn by the latter at the party. The “in” will be provided by Rose, who fortuitously gets the actress to agree to have her design her clothing.
Everything in the film moves about evenly and coolly. Even when probable obstacles come out of the woodwork — like when the gang discovers that the necklace to be stolen can only be taken off someone’s neck with a special magnet — we never have any doubts that these cunning ladies will get away with it. That’s part of the reason the Ocean’s movies have dazzled to begin with: audiences love to subversively see bad guys win. Such isn’t hard to want, though, when the bad guys are eloquent, funny, and extraordinary clever. Or when the good guys are unabashed hedonists in themselves, and are arguably more wasteful than the people trying to fleece them.
I’ve never been quite so taken with the Ocean’s movies, though. While they're enjoyable, the certainty that the criminals will get exactly what they want, with few hitches, is so overwhelming that urgency has consistently been lacking. Ocean’s 8 is no different. Though we’re impressed by its execution and reliably thrilled by its offerings, the unbearable suspense that comes with skepticism is missing, therefore enforcing unintended inconsequentiality.
The thinness of the characters, who are not more than well-dressed, regularly amusing types, back this. These people live and die by their screen time. They are movie characters, not individuals, and this deficiency of believability adds to the overreaching frivolity.
But all the Ocean’s movies have suffered from this. Insubstantial as it may be, then, 8 is still terrific fun. These actresses are distinctive and have great chemistry (turns out Rihanna, principally a multifaceted pop star, is an exceptional deadpan comedienne), and their appeal is thankfully enough to carry the movie, which, ultimately, gets the job done. Even if the sneaking suspicion that it could have been better — meaning weightier and funnier — is an unignorable undertow. B