Spinning off of Steven Soderbergh's Ocean's Trilogy 11 years later, director Gary Ross's Ocean's 8 is an attempt to put a new spin on the hyper stylish heist caper franchise of the early '00s. And for the most part? It does a pretty valiant job in its task -- but it's probably best not to look too closely at the details, or you just might notice you've been handed a fake.
Following Debbie Ocean (Sandra Bullock), the sister of the mysteriously late Danny Ocean (George Clooney) who anchored the original trilogy, Ocean's 8 sets up an extremely familiar tableau. Debbie's an not-so-ex-con getting parole after being wrongly imprisoned for five years. Once freed, she's immediately out to settle some scores and pull off a huge and risky job. To do so, she enlists the help of Lou (Cate Blanchett) -- the Rusty to her Danny, her right hand in all criminal dealings and together -- and they begin forming a team and a plan.
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Lou and Debbie's relationship is never quite explained, but it doesn't necessarily need to be. Bullock and Blanchett do a fantastic job of maintaining the same sentence-finishing banter and chemistry that Clooney and Pitt established in Eleven through Thirteen. In fact, they might actually do too good a job at keeping it familiar -- beats of Debbie and Lou's friendship feel almost recycled and easy to spot from miles away -- though that's hardly a sin. If the Ocean's franchise runs on duos of smooth-talking criminal masterminds, Debbie and Lou are clearly suitable heirs to the kingdom.
Things start getting clunky as the team comes together. Debbie's plan revolves around the elaborate heist of a famous Cartier necklace from the neck of an actress, Daphne Kluger (Anne Hathaway) during the Met Gala. To do this, they enlist a frazzled and failing fashion designer (Helena Bonham Carter), a jewelry maker (Mindy Kaling), a hacker (Rihanna), a pick pocket (Awkwafina) and a "fence" to help sell their stolen goods (Sarah Paulson). The team is recruited mostly in intercut montage -- another technique lifted from the original trilogy -- but none of the newly introduced criminals ever quite manage to land the same sort of fun, expert-in-their-field vibes as the crews from the other movies.
Ocean's 8 seems to lose sight of the major selling point of the Ocean's franchise: the unfiltered satisfaction that comes from watching a team of specialists come together and do what they're extremely good at very, very well. No one on Debbie's new team except for Lou and, occasionally, Rihanna's Nine Ball or Paulson's Tammy, seem all that comfortable in what they're undertaking. Sure, they're all extremely skilled in their areas of expertise but their skill sets never get a great spotlight next to all the comedic moments of them fumbling awkwardly around one another, or with their part of the plan.
The comedic moments are fine and some are laugh out loud funny, but the net result feels like a troupe of incidental criminals who would have been comfortable living their normal lives otherwise managing to really luck out on a big score rather than a real Ocean's Rube Goldberg machine heist falling into place after the sum of it's parts come together flawlessly.
Perhaps as an original heist movie, Ocean's 8 would have been better off -- it's certainly a lot of fun, and it's obvious that every member of the cast was having the time of their lives -- but it's really impossible to judge it entirely on its own merits when it goes so out of its way to invite the comparison. From the funky, jazzy soundtrack to sliding, fragmenting cuts to whole swaths of the story -- there's even a "please tell me this isn't about your ex" fight between Debbie and Lou that mirror's Rusty and Danny's conversation in Ocean's Eleven, almost to the letter -- Ocean's 8 desperately wants you to be remembering the films that came before it every step of the way.
Unfortunately, at the end of the day, all that effort just makes it difficult to leave the theater not feeling like you'd rather just go home and break out your old blu rays.
Hopefully Debbie and Lou's team will get another chance down the line. After all, "9" and "10" are still free for titles so there's certainly room. A second pass might give this new group a chance to iron out their kinks and streamline themselves into something that feels a bit more satisfying -- or, failing that, evolve into something completely new and unique.
Directed by Gary Ross, Ocean's 8 is in theaters now.