Remember that moment in “Ocean’s 11” when Brad Pitt tells the guys he’s joining the team because he doesn’t have any male friends and it would be nice to have a buddy or two?
I don’t remember that either, as it didn’t happen because that would be weird.
Yet in the all-female spinoff “Ocean’s 8,” a prominent character actually explains she’s joining the mission because she doesn’t have any female friends.
It’s kind of a laugh line but also kind of sad — and also a bit jarring. Guess we’re still going with the stereotype about a successful, smart, beautiful woman who just can’t find a single female friend. So sure, why not risk imprisonment for multiple felonies if it means a chance to find a friend?
The director of “Ocean’s 8” is the talented veteran Gary Ross (“Seabiscuit,” “Pleasantville,” “The Hunger Games”), who co-wrote the screenplay with Olivia Milch, and they have delivered a solid if somewhat underwhelming caper similar in tone and style to the “Ocean’s” trilogy of the early 2000s. But while the spectacularly gifted and enormously likable cast has the firepower and charisma to match the testosterone-fueled ensembles of those earlier films, “Ocean’s 8” is more of a smooth glide than an exhilarating adventure.
In a scene mirroring the opening sequence to “Ocean’s 11” (2001), in which George Clooney’s Danny Ocean faces the parole board and is released from prison, Bullock’s Debbie Ocean goes through the same process after serving nearly six years for a con gone wrong.
Even these brief intro segments illustrate the difference in subtle quality between the two films. In “11,” when Danny is asked what he’d do if released, he doesn’t answer — but the sudden shift in his gaze and the twinkle in his eyes tell us everything. In “8,” Debbie launches into a monologue about how all she wants to do is get a legit job and live a quiet life and pay her bills.
Sometimes less is so much more.
Within hours of her release, Debbie has pilfered and conned and bluffed her way through Manhattan, stealing a number of luxury items and crashing in a lavish hotel suite without spending a dime.
So. The whole rehabilitation thing definitely didn’t stick.
Debbie pays a quick visit to her estranged brother Danny — well, actually to his grave. Turns out Danny’s dead. Or is he?
Yes. He’s definitely dead. Probably.
Time to get down to business. We learn Debbie spent much of her time in the joint planning an elaborate heist far bigger than anything she ever pulled back in the day. The target: a $150 million necklace to be worn by the celebrity Daphne Kluger (Anne Hathaway) to the Met Gala.
It might occur to you to ask how Debbie would have known some five years ago that Daphne would be wearing this necklace — which hasn’t seen the light of day in decades — to this particular Met Gala. It does NOT occur to anyone in the movie to ask Debbie about this.
Debbie recruits her Dream Team:
• Her old partner Lou (Cate Blanchett), with whom she shares a checkered past. (If only the film eventually told us more about the complicated dynamic between these two.)
• A jeweler named Amita (Mindy Kaling), who will do anything to get away from the mother who keeps pestering her to find a man.
• Tammy (Sarah Paulson), a skilled fence who is bored to tears by her comfortable suburban family life.
• A laid-back, pot-smoking, genius hacker who calls herself Nine Ball (Rihanna).
• The quirky and wacky fashion designer Rose (Helena Bonham Carter), who is long past her moment in the fashion sun.
• A slick street con artist named Constance (Awkwafina).
Love this cast. They make for a nifty team, and their timing is impeccable.
If only they had to face a more daunting challenge.
One of the problems with “Ocean’s 8” is there isn’t a formidable, hiss-worthy villain a la Andy Garcia’s casino owner in “Oceans 11.” (The ex-boyfriend character, played by Richard Armitage, is a dopey and vain fop, easily dismissed and never a real threat.)
Also, even though the bouncy hipster score and the quick-cut edits keep things zipping along, it’s far too easy for Debbie and the team to infiltrate the party-planning committee and the gala itself. With a snap of the fingers and a well-timed lie or two, Rose quickly becomes Daphne’s dress designer; Tammy and Lou and Amita and Constance find jobs that place them inside the gala on the big night; and Nine Ball effortlessly hacks into any system they need to access.
Even when a savvy insurance investigator (James Corden, killing it) arrives on the scene post-crime and is quite certain Debbie is behind the theft of the necklace, he’s more of a cheeky best friend than a true adversary.
There’s also something mildly off-putting about the breathless adoration of the Met Gala, which is filmed as if it’s a royal event at Buckingham Palace, with the camera lingering on celebrity arrivals such as Kim Kardashian. Yes, it’s gorgeous and divine and all that, but what a missed opportunity to poke fun at such an overblown and self-aggrandizing spectacle.
Of course, “Ocean’s 8” leaves the door open to further chapters, and it would be a coup just to reassemble such a fantastic cast.
The next step would be giving them a darker, more challenging, more nuanced adventure.
Warner Bros. presents a film directed by Gary Ross and written by Ross and Olivia Milch. Rated PG-13 (for language, drug use, and some suggestive content). Running time: 110 minutes. Opens Friday at local theaters.