The “Ocean’s” franchise is starting to feel more like Sunday afternoon television than a big event movie-going experience. The first film, “Ocean’s 11” from all the way back in 2001, was breezy and fun, but it felt like a big deal. “Look at all the stars! Can they pull it off?”
There were genuine surprises and thrills and the consensus was that Steven Soderbergh had accomplished something notable in recreating the 60s-era Rat Pack classic. By the time we get around to this installment, involving Danny Ocean’s sister and her pals, it feels more like, “Look at all the stars! I wonder how they got the weekend off to come and hang out together?” You start to wonder, “What’s the point?” when the casting director does the most impressive job in the film.
With all that, “Ocean’s 8” is still breezy and fun. There’s nothing in the film itself to really complain about, other than the fact that there’s really not a lot to the film. Debbie Ocean (Sandra Bullock) opens the film by conning her way through a parole board hearing to be released from prison after a five-year stint. While she was in the joint, her brother Danny, played in the previous films by George Clooney, has died. The film plays a little coy with this — we don’t ever get details as to how or when, and there’s a scene where one character asks, while Debbie is staring at her brothers grave, “Do you think he’s really in there?” “He better be,” comes the reply.
Soon, our hero reconnects with Lou, Cate Blanchett as a bar owner and former partner-in-crime. It seems Debbie’s spent the last five years planning a major heist, going over every step in her head and she knows exactly how many people she needs to carry it off. Care to guess the number? What follows is a fun set of introductions where Debbie either reconnects or interviews a host of shady, yet imminently agreeable ladies.
Helena Bonham Carter is Rose, a down-on-her-luck fashion designer who was, at one time, at the top of her game. She will connect our crew to the mark — Daphne Kluger, played by Anne Hathaway, as an entitled princess of an actress. With the help of Rose the designer, Kruger will wear a fabulous $150 million necklace to a fabulous society party where our crew will relieve her of said burden. The rest of the crew is chosen for their particular skills. Mindy Kaling is Amita, the jeweler. Rihanna is Nine Ball, the hacker. Sarah Paulson is Tammy, the fence. And last, but not least, is Awkwafina, as Constance, the pickpocket. Each of these actresses do a beautiful job in their various roles and director Gary Ross masterfully allows each of them to shine individually, while creating great chemistry within the group.
Of all these actresses, Awkwafina was the only one I had to look up, because I assumed she was some well-known pop sensation that I was just too old to have heard of. Turns out her biggest role to date was voicing a quail in “Storks,” so I’m not sure how she landed this plum gig. I’m sure she’s a big YouTube star or something, but regardless, she’s lots of fun in this film and I can certainly see her career taking off from here.
Everyone is a lot of fun in this film, and that’s part of the problem as well. Through the entire caper, there’s very little conflict. The heist is planned, practiced, and then, spoiler alert, is undertaken successfully. I kept waiting for the wrench in the works that would cause all these talented criminals to have to improvise, but it never happened. There are minor twists here and there, but the story pretty much plays out exactly as Debbie describes. It’s entertaining while it’s going off, but at the end leaves you with a feeling of, “So what did I just watch?”
Ross, who also collaborated on writing the film, has a great set of characters but never explores or expands them. I doubt this film is going to be a massive hit, considering 1.) I was the only person in the screening I went to until a trio of tipsy college boys wandered in a half-hour late, and 2.) “Incredibles 2” was released a couple of days after this film was. In fact, you were probably picking up the paper hoping to find a review of “Incredibles” but due to the lag between the time I see the movie, write it up and get it to the paper for printing, there was no time to see it and get it to press. That’ll be next week. I hear it’s good.
I’m sad this won’t be a bigger hit, because I would love to see this crew in a better movie. It’s kind of the same way I felt about the last “Ghostbusters” film. I’m all about these female casts because we’re getting to see talent highlighted in ways we normally don’t. There’s no sexualization or victimization in this film. These characters are given the same respect their male counterparts would have been given. It’s refreshing but unfortunately wasted in this movie where very little happens. Go see this for an easy summer evening out, but don’t expect to remember it the next morning. Maybe if enough people do that, we can get a sequel that actually does something with this talented cast. Grade: B
“Ocean’s 8” is rated PG-13 for language.
Chris Jenness is an art teacher and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.