Like a cubic zirconia knockoff of a priceless diamond necklace, this female “Ocean’s” update looks the part but just ain’t got that sparkle.
This is frustrating, given the glittery cast, headed by Sandra Bullock as Debbie Ocean (sister of George Clooney’s possibly dead Danny). Here’s a thought: Maybe sometimes the idea of a movie is enough. Bullock teaming up in a heist flick with Cate Blanchett, Rihanna, Mindy Kaling, Helena Bonham Carter, Sarah Paulson? I’d almost rather leave it at that — all potential, no disappointment. An early cameo here by Elliott Gould’s Reuben Tishkoff, from those Clooney-led movies, seems to wink at this notion. It’s enough to know the job could work, he warns Debbie. You don’t need to actually go through with it.
But here we are, going through with it. Director Gary Ross (“The Hunger Games”) capably, if predictably, channels the swingin’ soundtrack and style of the Steven Soderbergh “Ocean’s” films as Debbie sob-stories her way into parole from a prior con and jumps immediately back into the life. Her partner in crime — and seemingly in love, though only nodded at in the vaguest, most uncontroversial terms — is Lou (Blanchett), a nightclub owner who specializes in having the coolest bangs ever and watering down the vodka.
Soon, Debbie’s long-planned jewel theft, tied to the Met Gala (and its many celebrity cameos: Kim Kardashian! Heidi Klum! Anna herself!), is underway. The process of assembling the team of pros is the first hint you’ll need to lower your expectations; it’s where all earlier “Ocean’s” films had the most fun, but this screenplay, by Ross with Olivia Milch, relies more on our familiarity with personas than actual wit. Cool, it’s Rihanna as a blunt-smoking hacker; yes, Helena Bonham Carter’s designer, Rose Weil, does seem an awful lot like Betsey Johnson, doesn’t she? Newcomer Awkwafina is the most engaging, as a card-sharp pickpocket, but even she doesn’t get any memorable lines (and must suffer through some Awk-ward Subway sandwich product placement, to boot). Blanchett is mostly reduced to slouching around, chewing gum and looking fierce. Paulson, as the fence, and Kaling, as the jeweler, have few discernible personality traits, but it’s always nice to see them.
The real MVP is Anne Hathaway as the heist’s unwitting aide, preening actress Daphne Kluger, from whose neck the coveted necklace will be purloined mid-gala. The orgasmic noises she makes as six pounds of Cartier jewels are latched onto her while getting dressed are funnier than any of Ross’ dialogue. (Runner-up is James Corden in a third-act appearance as a canny insurance investigator.)
A plan falls into place, though this one’s got some implausible moving parts, like “Get a job at Vogue” and “get hired as a celebrity’s designer.” Perhaps the supposition is that women just know how to get stuff like this done. But the film makes only occasional overt nods to the gender flip: “A ‘him’ gets noticed, a ‘her’ gets ignored,” Debbie says, dismissing the idea of bringing a guy on. It’s a fine point, especially in a film featuring a lot of not-terribly young women (none under 30, I believe) sneaking rare jewels out from under a throng of youth-obsessed stars and onlookers. And Bullock’s Debbie does give a great inspirational speech about doing it for all the little girls who yearn to be jewel thieves when they grow up.
Fair enough, though I doubt “Ocean’s 8” will inspire any of them to be.
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