This surprisingly flat action comedy is a straight gender-swap of a limping formula
Dir: Gary Ross. US. 2018. 106mins
A promising cast led by Sandra Bullock and Cate Blanchett is pretty much wasted in Ocean’s 8, Warner’s female-centric - though male-directed - take on the heist caper formula that gave George Clooney and Brad Pitt a trilogy of hits in the oughties. More than a decade after the last Clooney-Pitt outing, this #MeToo era spin-off has a glamorous New York setting, a high fashion backdrop and celeb cameos aplenty, but little of the pizzazz and film-making brio necessary to make the formula really work.
A straight gender-swap version of the familiar scenario, climaxing with the elaborately executed job on the big night
Competition for the distaff audience could be lively when the spin-off opens in North America on June 8 (a favoured slot for female-oriented counter-programming, accentuated this year by the start of the World Cup on June 14) and in most other territories through the rest of the month. But the star power on offer could still give Ocean’s 8 a chance of matching the performance of 2007’s Ocean’s Thirteen, the last and least successful of the Clooney-Pitt movies, which managed $117.2m domestically and $194.2m internationally.
Giving the spin-off a winking connection to the earlier films (themselves, of course, based on a swaggering Rat Pack caper from the early sixties), Bullock’s Debbie Ocean is revealed, soon after she gets out of prison at the start of the story, to be the sister of Clooney’s now dead Danny Ocean. Debbie hooks up with former partner-in-crime Lou (Blanchett) to plan the theft of a $150m diamond necklace, set to be worn at New York’s exclusive Met Gala (a real-life fundraising event for the city’s Metropolitan Museum of Art) by screen diva Daphne Kluger (Anne Hathaway).
With Gary Ross (The Hunger Games) directing from a script he wrote with Olivia Milch (writer-director of Netflix female dramedy Dude), the film feels oddly subdued from the start. There are early hints that it might re-think rather than just tweak the Ocean’s formula - “Hims get noticed, hers get ignored,” says Debbie while picking her team – but then it seems to settle for being a straight gender-swap version of the familiar scenario, climaxing with the elaborately executed job on the big night.
Bullock takes centre stage, but the role of no-nonsense mastermind Debbie doesn’t make the most of her comedic talents. Blanchett’s Lou never develops beyond her criminal cool and, as the crew’s computer hacker, R&B star Rihanna - who last acted in Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets - rarely gets out from behind her laptop (though the fact that she’s behind it in the first place shows an effort to avoid some of the usual ethnic stereotypes).
Most disappointing are the flimsy and rarely funny roles given to Mindy Kaling (from TV’s The Mindy Project), as the crew’s jeweler, and Helena Bonham Carter, who plays an eccentric, Irish-accented fashion designer. The cameos include brief appearances from Dakota Fanning, Katie Holmes, Shaobo Qin (from the Clooney-Pitt movies), Maria Sharapova, Serena Williams, Heidi Klum, Anna Wintour and other fashion industry names.
British actor and TV host James Corden gets a bigger role in the story’s last act, but even his cuddly charm and pop culture cachet fails to bring this surprisingly flat action comedy to life.
Production companies: Warner Bros Pictures, Village Roadshow Pictures, Rahway Road
Worldwide distribution: Warner Bros/Village Roadshow
Producers: Steven Soderbergh, Susan Ekins
Screenplay: Gary Ross, Olivia Milch
Production design: Alex DiGerlando
Editing: Juliette Welfling
Cinematography: Eigil Bryld
Music: Daniel Pemberton
Main cast: Sandra Bullock, Cate Blanchett, Anne Hathaway, Mindy Kaling, Sarah Paulson, Awkwafina, Rihanna, Helena Bonham Carter