Ocean’s 8 Review: All Sass, No Zing

Ocean’s 8 Review: All Sass, No Zing

Rating: 2 Stars
Director: Gary Ross
Starring: Sandra Bullock, Cate Blanchett, Rihanna, Helena Bonham-Carter, Anne Hathaway, Mindy Kaling, Awkwafina, Sarah Paulson

If you’ve seen one movie from the Ocean’s franchise, you know what you’re going to get. An ex-con comes out of prison, plans a long con, recruits a motley crew of madly talented people, pulls off the heist, and all’s well that ends well. The opening scene of Ocean’s 8 is a direct tribute to its mostly male predecessor franchise. Debbie Ocean (Sandra Bullock), Danny Ocean’s (George Clooney in the three-movie franchise) sister, gets out of prison after a five-year stint, goes back into the world, connects with older allies, and plans the mother of all heists. The rest of the movie is how the heist will unfold, as you would expect. 

The whole reason for this movie to have been made seems to be from a feminist standpoint, a collective of women cocking a snook at gendered, gendering, misogynistic Hollywood. But despite an all-female cast, this movie would fail the Bechdel test. Miserably. The two lead characters seem to mostly talk about men. And the only box this ticks in the current, charged climes is that the star cast reads like a diversity officer’s honour roll. Self-taught, badass black Rastafarian chick? Check. Put-upon desi broad trying to break free of her mother’s clutches and make it on her own in stockinged legs in New York? Check. Gamine Asian girl with mad analytical skills and street smarts? Check. Kooky Helena Bonham-Carter being her mad kooky British self? Check. 

What’s criminally missing here is the hubris of a heist movie. There is none of the interplay between the characters that you saw in the original franchise, none of the camaraderie, none of the snappy humour, and for the lack of a better word, none of the brotherhood. The characters are let down by both the script and direction in that none of Ocean’s 8 seem to want to bond. And because of this, the audience will – alas -- not care for the characters, or their weak, strangely unempowered backstories. The fun of a good caper movie is you know it’s wrong to support hucksters and criminals, and yet you want those damn crooks to make away with their loot. Here, you’re left feeling cold, despite the $150 million diamond necklace that you know Ocean’s 8 will get away with. The movie plays it too safe to be polemical about gender politics and stays too close to chick flick territory to make a point about women empowerment. Get this. Debbie Ocean’s primary concerns are: a man from her past who's wronged her, and robbing crown jewels. I mean, seriously?

Sandra Bullock looks like she is not particularly invested in her role, like it was just a paycheck, and Cate Blanchett is hugely miscast. Sadly though, the two leads seem to be mere wishy-washy gender swaps for the original Ocean and his sidekick. Trouble is, with none of Clooney’s rakish insouciance and Brad Pitt’s blond, blue-eyed loopy charm. Of the cast, Rihanna is the surprising revelation. She is a natural.

Final verdict? Ocean’s 8 would work better as a Saturday night watch on Netflix, where you don’t have to pay the price of admission at a movie theater, and you pop your own corn in the microwave. And at the risk of courting controversy, I will say this: that if it’s a heist movie, it’s got to be a tall drink of cool water with crinkly eyes strutting his stuff in Gucci or Armani for it to work. For me, at least. Because once you’ve gone Danny Ocean, you can’t go back. Let’s be honest here. How many of us would want to see a male Mata Hari? Not me, not I. And I don’t reckon you would, either. 

In closing, I prefer my heist/caper movies with a healthy dose of testosterone, thank you very much. And my gender politics shaken, please. Not stirred. If stirred, I expect nothing less than Thelma and Louise.