“A Him gets noticed, a Her gets ignored. And for once, we’d like to be ignored.”
This is Debbie Ocean (Sandra Bullock) to Lou (Cate Blanchett) as the two try to put together the heist team in Ocean’s 8. That is not the only reason why the film, a spin-off from the wildly popular Ocean’s trilogy, chose to opt for an all-female cast. For once, the makers wanted to see what a non-male heist film would look like. So they brought together a bunch of ravishingly good-looking women and asked it to pull off a job, simply because they wanted to show it can.
Ocean’s 8 follows a familiar theme: Debbie, much like her brother, Danny, is out on parole and eyeing a heist, this time at the Met in New York. Naturally, she needs a team. What follows is a strategic recruitment drive that sees a carefully defined role for each of the members. Enter eccentric fashion designer Rose Weil (Helena Bonham Carter), street swindler Constance (Awkwafina), stolen-goods dealer Tammy (Sarah Paulson), jewel thief Amita (Mindy Kaling) and hacker Nine Ball (Rihanna). Anna Hathaway plays the dim-witted, supercilious actor Daphne Kluger.
The cast, composed of several kooky characters, shares a sparkling chemistry that never makes you feel the absence of male star actors. Each character is likeable in its own way, and the camaraderie on show is as entertaining as George Clooney, Brad Pitt and Matt Damon’s in the earlier instalments. For the most part, Ocean’s 8 zooms along nicely, offering a delightful breeziness that ensures the film does not swerve into serious territory despite the precarious nature of the task at hand.
Debbie breaks into surprisingly perfect German, Amita tries Hindi and fails horribly and Constance cracks you up with her ditzy sense of humour — this is entertainment that keeps you glued. Complementing the humour is abundant style. Ocean’s 8 has more Louis Vuitton and Gucci than you might like, and the sets are lavish and elaborate to the point that you start questioning their authenticity. If that wasn’t enough, there are glamorous cameos by Serena Williams, Heidi Klum and Maria Sharapova.
Where the film starts to fade is in its predictability. The planning is brilliantly fresh but the execution is burdened by a facile approach that reserves no room for twists or surprises. Everything is so ludicrously easy that you genuinely wonder (spoiler alert) how Debbie, the ingenious master-planner, got framed and wound up in prison in the first place. Curiously, it is the initial segments of Debbie shoplifting and illegally checking into hotels that are more engrossing — and amusing — than the film’s climax.
There are no standout scenes or performances. Bullock duplicates Clooney’s charm with ease but overdoes the nonchalance; Blanchett is a bright spark but is seriously underutilised; Carter is crooked in the best of ways but is a tad overused; and most of the actors have tiny parts that prevent them from getting off the script’s periphery.
Perhaps most disappointing is the direction of Gary Ross (Seabiscuit and The Hunger Games), who has also co-written the film. Ross, although a fine filmmaker, lacks the panache and cinematic flair of Steven Soderbergh, who helmed the Ocean’s trilogy. Soderbergh’s ability to give the simplest of things an intricate twist is deeply missing in Ocean’s 8. The dialogue is trite and lacks the conversational verve that made the previous instalments such a rage — you can never really feel the throbbing energy.
Ocean’s 8 is in parts enjoyable and watchable, but its visual appeal fails to make up for a lack of meaty content — it is devoid of any inventiveness or complexity. Unlike some other films that have attempted gender-swapping, this is no feminist cataclysm, but it is sure to put a very marketable franchise’s future in slight jeopardy.