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Ocean's 8
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by Peter Sobczynski

"Good Girls Gone Bad"
4 stars

After the screening of “Ocean’s 8,” a colleague said that he found it to be “lightweight and disposable.” For a lot of movies, that might be seen as criticism but in the case of this one, it strikes me as being more of a simple observation than anything else. Like the previous “Ocean’s” films—both the original 1960 Rat Pack extravaganza and the star-studded 2001 remake (not to mention the latter’s two sequels)—this is not a movie bound and determined to take on the problems of the world in a thoughtful and introspective manner. No, it is a slickly-made piece of fluff offering viewers nothing more than a cheerfully preposterous caper comedy enacted by so many glamorous and well-known faces that it sometimes feels as if the contents of a magazine rack have suddenly come to life. This sounds easy enough in theory, I suppose, but to pull one of these things off properly requires an incredible degree of ingenuity and precision—one false move and the whole enterprise can come off like a smug and lazy bore that has only enormous paychecks for the actors and mild contempt for those in the audience. Happily, this is not one of those cases and while it will not going down as a masterpiece anytime soon, even the most unrepentant churl would be hard-pressed to resist its fizzy charms.

As you may have heard, “Ocean’s 8” is a spin-off of the recent “Ocean’s” franchise focusing on Debbie Ocean (Sandra Bullock), the heretofore unknown younger sister of Danny Ocean. As the film opens, Debbie is just being released after spending more than five years behind bars for fraud—she did the time while her lover/partner in crime, sleaze-bag gallery owner Claude Becker (Richard Armitage), gave her up in order to save his own highly moisturized hide. After being let out, she immediately makes her way to New York City, where she uses her scamming skills to score several bags of merchandize from Bergdorf Goodman and a swanky hotel room with less difficulty than most of us have ordering a pizza over the phone. From there, she reunites with former colleague Lou (Cate Blanchett) and unveil her plans for her latest and perhaps greatest job—an elaborate heist to take place during the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute benefit, an annual event that regularly attracts the hottest and luckiest members of the A list in a manner that makes the Academy Awards red carpet seem shabby by comparison.

The target, however, is not one of treasures on display in the museum but rather the Touissant, a legendary and rarely seen Cartier diamond necklace that weighs 6 1/2 pounds, is worth upwards of $150 million and, if things go according to plan, will turn up on the neck of the gala’s celebrity host, enormously popular and incredibly self-centered movie star Daphne Kluger). To pull off this caper will require some additional help, of course, and Debbie and Lou get to recruiting and bring a few others into the fold with the lure of an enormous payoff, including on-the-skids fashion designer Rose Weil (Helena Bonham Carter), criminal-turned-soccer mom Tammy (Sarah Paulson), jewelry maker Amita (Mindy Kaling), sleight-of-hand artist Constance (Awkwafina) and a genius computer hacker known only as Nine-Ball (Rihanna). To say anything more about the details of the crime or the obstacles that our heroes may run into along the way would be monstrously unfair, of course. but suffice it to say, the plan does not always unfold as smoothly as anticipated and things do not always prove to be what they seem at first glance.

Other than taking a producing credit, Soderbergh was not involved with “Ocean’s 8” and has instead turned the reins over to Gary Ross, who directed and co-wrote the screenplay with Olivia Milch and while this one fits in nicely enough with Soderbergh’s, there are some key stylistic differences between the two. While the previous films found Soderbergh utilizing a jazzy visual approach to capture both the camaraderie between his players and the increasingly elaborate heists they were attempting to pull off, Ross and Milch take a more comparatively grounded approach to his version of the perfect heist, which is as unlikely as can be but which is depicted in a way that makes you think that a robbery like that could actually be accomplished, at least during the time that you are watching it play out. As for the all-female conceit, the screenplay is clever in the manner that it takes what could have just been a marketing gimmick and made it into a key aspect of the narrative. (Suffice it to say, the heist as depicted is one that could not have been pulled off in the same way if it was being attempted by a bunch of guys.) The screenplay also has the requisite amount of twists and turns but this time around, they help to serve the story instead of existing simply to be clever or tipping the balance of the story to pure ludicrousness. While Ross’s approach behind the camera may not be quite as ambitious or experimental as Soderbergh’s, he keeps things humming along in a slick and high-spirited manner that is an ideal match for the material at hand. Even when the screen threatens to be overwhelmed by the sheer star wattage on display from both the main cast and the equally famous faces who turn up as guests at the gala, it still maintains a friendly and engaging feel that keeps it from seeming like just a bunch of famous faces farting around. If there is a major flaw to the film, it is that it is quite literally too much of a good thing at times in that some of the cast members end up getting lost in the shuffle at times. (I wish, for example, that there had been more for Mindy Kaling to do that would let her better show off her offbeat sense of humor.)

Of course, the big appeal of “Ocean’s 8” is to see the members of its female-centric cast strutting their collective stuff in roles that, often as not, allow them to goof off of their various public personae. Indeed, some of the best parts of the movie are the ones that feature them together and sparking off of each other. In her first film in quite a while, Sandra Bullock proves to be entirely winning as the ringleader of the gang and Blanchett is just as entertaining in a part that is roughly equivalent to the one that Brad Pitt played in the earlier films. Carter is hilarious as a character who was the hot name thirty years ago but who has been cast aside with the shifting cultural tides. As for Rihanna and Awkwafina, they may not have the years of acting experience that their co-stars have racked up but they both have the kind of pure personality that allows them to more than hold their own against them. The best of the bunch, however, is Hathaway, who steals the film outright by deftly spoofing her own image as Daphne, who maintains virtually every real and imagined bad habit that a rich and popular young actress could be accused of having but who nevertheless proves to be a lot smarter and cannier than anyone could imagine. (There are also a number of entertaining cameo appearances as well but whether any of them are done by members of the previous “Ocean’s” films is something that I leave for you to discover.)

Of course, the world that “Ocean’s 8” is being released in is a far different one than the one that existed when it began production. Then, the biggest concern might have been whether the notion of an all-female take on “Ocean’s 11” would run into the same buzzsaw that the “Ghostbusters” remake did when aggrieved fanboys were horrified by the notion that girls could get slimed. Now, coming in the wake of the MeToo movement, there is the chance that it will have sociopolitical concerns ascribed to it that no one could have dreamed of when it went before the camera. On the one hand, this would be a bit silly because this is a film that is as much of a fantasy in its own way as the superhero movie of you choice and to pin real world concerns upon it would be absurd. At the same time, however, it does, even if inadvertently, tap into the anger and energy driving that movement in the way that it embraces its female-centric perspective without ever making apologies for not having any substantial male characters of note. Intentional or not, “Ocean’s 8” is clearly a movie custom-made for this particular point in time—thankfully, it also happens to be a hugely entertaining and eminently watchable one as well.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=31229&reviewer=389
originally posted: 06/07/18 11:30:57
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User Comments

6/11/18 Tony Brubaker This franchise really is becoming so tiresome and idiotic. 1 stars
6/09/18 Bob Dog Lower tier heist movie provides less fun than it could. 3 stars
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  08-Jun-2018 (PG-13)
  DVD: 04-Sep-2018


  DVD: 04-Sep-2018

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