‘Ocean’s 8’ Review: No Style, No Wit, No Moral Courage

Oceans8feat1
Warner Bros. Entertainment

About 40-minutes into Ocean’s 8, after it struck me that the movie was nowhere near as much fun as heist movies are supposed to be, my attention wandered towards ideas that might have made the experience a bit more lively. And because I’m a child, an image popped into my head…

…a glorious image…

… the image of an Ocean’s 8 poster specifically designed as though this all-female reboot of an all-male flick came out in 1983, which means the “8” in the title is subtly finessed to look like boobs.

Bewbs.

That poster is awesome. Not because my design is awesome, but because the design is inappropriate, and there’s nothing more American than “inappropriate,” and America is awesome.

Where was I?

Ocean’s 8 is a sequel to director Steven Soderbergh’s Ocean’s trilogy, which launched in 2001 with the legitimately good Ocean’s Eleven, bottomed out with Ocean’s Twelve (2004), and then recovered with the pretty good Ocean’s Thirteen (2007). Thanks to Soderbergh’s stunning abilities with a camera, a terrific score, a game cast, and a massive $85 million budget, even a classic movie fan and Sinatra-worshipper like myself can admit Eleven topped the 1960 original.

Ocean’s 8 is nowhere near as bad as Ocean’s Twelve, but it is still not very good.

Director Gary Ross, who co-scripted with Olivia Milch, is no Steven Soderbergh and needs to stop trying to be something he is not. Ross is talented. He wrote the screenplays for Big (1988), a legitimate classic, and Dave (1983), the best movie ever made about an everyman assuming the presidency (and there are a lot of those). His 2003 adaptation of Seabiscuit is still one of the best movies of this new century.

In 2012, though, Ross jumped genres, taking on the first installment in the Hunger Games franchise, which made a ton of money and is plenty entertaining, but, for whatever reason, Ross decided to utilize that goddamned shaky-cam, which is not only sooooo 2006, it already sucked in 2006. Stylistically, Ocean’s 8 is not much better. While you can tell Ross is aware his project demands visual pizzazz, it never rises above made-for-TV.

The Soderbergh entries sizzle and pop. The director’s verve and confidence shine — and never in a self-conscious way. Ocean’s 8, which is set in Manhattan, has no excuse to be, well, kinda brown. Heist movies require razzle-dazzle. I’ve seen Law & Order episodes more visually attractive.

The other problem is the script, which is rarely clever and never tense. In fact, in the end, Ocean’s 8 is not really a heist movie. Before I get to that, let’s back up a bit…

Sandra Bullock, Helena Bonham Carter, Cate Blanchett, Anne Hathaway, Sarah Paulson, Mindy Kaling, Rihanna, and Awkwafina in Ocean’s Eight (Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc., 2018)

Sandra Bullock is Debbie Ocean, the estranged sister of George Clooney’s Danny Ocean, who is now dead, or pretending to be dead. Just like big bro, the grift courses through Debbie’s veins, and immediately upon release from five-plus years in the slammer, she puts together a team to take down the Met Gala.

If, like me, you live in the real world, you are undoubtedly wondering what a “Met Gala” is.  According to the movie (and Wikipedia), the Met Gala is the Social Event of the Year. Naturally, it takes place in Manhattan. Currently, it’s hosted by Anna Wintour, the editor-in-chief of Vogue (who, along with many others, has a cameo).

The advertised idea behind the Met Gala is to raise money for stuff rich people like to look at. But based on its exclusivity, it’s really just one of those events that allows self-proclaimed elitists to use a limited number of invites to decide if you are “in” or “out.”

Sandra Bullock, Helena Bonham Carter, Cate Blanchett, Anne Hathaway, Sarah Paulson, Mindy Kaling, Rihanna, and Awkwafina in Ocean’s Eight (Warner Bros. Pictures/Village Roadshow Pictures/Photo by Barry Wetcher, 2018)

Anyway, Debbie has her eye on a six-pound Cartier necklace worth $150 million, and all she has to do to get her hands on it is to convince Cartier to loan it to celebutante Daphne Kluger (Anne Hathaway). But this can only happen if Daphne is convinced to wear a necklace that comes with two full-time bodyguards. But this can only happen if Daphne is also convinced to hire failing fashion designer Rose Weil (Helena Bonham Carter — the best thing in the movie). And this can only happen if two strangers can convince Rose to become a felon.

These are just some of the convenient coincidences and contrivances that make up Debbie’s genius plan, which is absurdly reliant on human beings behaving predictably, which human beings never do.

Oh, and four — count ’em: four — of Debbie eight manage to land employment inside the highly secure and exclusive Met Gala. One lands a job on the actual planning committee. That is what I meant about this not really being a heist movie. When you have four employees on the inside, a better description is an embezzlement movie.

What is especially odd is that once the heist commences, there are no reversals,  no hitches, nothing unpredictable happens. There is also — and this is a huge flaw — no antagonist. Where is the Andy Garcia character? The boo-hiss bad guy every bit as smart as our heroes; the ever-suspicious one always a moment away from blowing the whole thing up?

As total strangers act in the exact way Debbie needs them to act, as things like dirty dish trays are magically placed exactly where Debbie needs them placed, as professional security guards are intimidated by a bad Swedish accent to take their eyes off the prize, what we have here is a heist movie where the heist is never threatened. Which means there is no suspense.

The filmmakers seem to be counting on the audience being as dumb as Met Gala security because we are actually supposed to buy the idea that Met Gala security would believe a six-pound necklace with a special clasp would just slip off of Daphne’s neck without her noticing. We are also supposed to buy Debbie casually hanging out with her crew the day after the robbery, even though the scene of the crime is fully covered by security cameras and she is a known felon who is almost certainly going to be visited by police.

Well, not in this movie. There are no police.

Countless other eye-rollers insult your intelligence throughout,  and just when you start to believe an insurance fraud investigator (ably played by James Corden) might be kind enough to tie you a stomach knot, the artifice is turned up to 11.

The cast is okay-fine. Other than Bonham Carter, the only real standout is Awkwafina’s pickpocket, who at least seems real. Bullock, her partner-in-crime Lou (Cate Blanchett), and computer hacker Nine Ball (Rihanna), have no pulse. Too-cool-for-school is fine, but we have to sense an emotional life in your undercurrent. All these ladies do is pose.

Homemaker-slash-truck-hijacker Tammy (Sarah Paulson) never rises above the cliché you expect, the concerned mommy on the phone assuring her children mommy will be home just as soon as mommy is done with her mommy thing.

Anne Hathaway’s performance plays like an inside joke no one lets you in on.

And while I know we are not supposed to speak certain truths anymore,  while I know we are all required to ignore the distraction and pretend we are not distracted, the fact that Bullock and Blanchett have had their middle-aged faces stretched as tight as a funeral drum (hat tip: Pink Floyd) is a distraction. Sorry.

Finally, there is the missed opportunity of a lifetime, which would have been to make the Met Gala itself — this imperious, foofoo, stuffy, snobby, shallow, one-percent-athon — the butt of the joke, the target of the heist.

But because the Met Gala features the “correct” Beautiful People, the “correct” Fabulously Wealthy, the “correct” Elite, the filmmakers choose not to bring them down a notch Groucho-style, because that would require ingredients verboten in this story: a touch of self-awareness, mixed with a pinch of contempt, a spoonful of moral courage, and served with a side order of wit.

And so, rather than risk not being invited to 2019’s Met Gala, the filmmakers target only one character for a comeuppance, and guess who that is — yep, a man who scorned a woman. How edgy. And the contrivances to make this work are what led me to imagine my awesome poster.

Despite my litany of complaints, boredom never crept in. Enough stuff happens. But it is just stuff.

 

Follow John Nolte on Twitter @NolteNC. Follow his Facebook Page here.

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