Do the math. For 11 men who carried off a successful raid on a casino in Ocean’s Eleven (2001) and then swelled their numbers through the two sequels, the spin-off movie has only eight confidence tricksters.
Perhaps the world isn’t ready yet for a movie with 14 female leads. Or perhaps the story writers of Ocean’s Eight could not stretch their imagination far enough.
Be that as it may. Gary Ross’s movie features a talented bunch of women who defy the notion that women are unable to use their brains and must resort to their bodies to get their hands on ill-begotten lucre. As Debbie Ocean (Sandra Bullock) says in a movie that is low on memorable lines, somewhere out there is a young girl dreaming of being a criminal.
Debbie is the estranged sister of George Clooney’s Daniel Ocean who may or may not be dead, leading to the expectation that he will pop up in a star cameo. Debbie earns parole after a thoroughly insincere interview to prison authorities in which she promises to stick to the straight and narrow, only to trick her way into a luxury hotel minutes after being sprung out. Bad acting, or rather, putting on an appearance for the benefit of others, is one of the better ideas in Ocean’s Eight, and it works beautifully in the case of Anne Hathaway’s frothy socialite, whose elegant neck (“the best in the world”) proves very useful.
Debbie has spent her five-year jail term thinking of the perfect swindle, and it involves raiding the prestigious Met Gala in New York City and making off with a prized Cartier necklace that actress Daphne (Hathaway) will wear to the event. Debbie’s crew comprises old collaborator Lou (Cate Blanchett), fashion designer Rose (Helena Bonham-Carter), hacker Nine Ball (Rihanna), jewellery maker Amita (Mindy Kaling), pickpocket Constance (Awkafina) and suburban housewife and closet thief Tammy (Sarah Paulson).
Do the math: who’s the eighth of the title? The movie poster is a giveaway, and the twist is barely convincing, as is the ease with which Debbie and her gang inveigle themselves into the Met Gala under the noses of the museum management and Vogue editor and ball host Anna Wintour (playing herself).
The meat is in the heist itself, which should have and would have been the movie’s centerpiece if director Gary Ross and co-writer Olivia Milch had resisted the extended coda. This involves a suspicious insurance investigator (James Corden), whose probe gives the movie a second ending, one even less credulous that the identity of the eighth con.
The recruitment scenes are a throwback to Steven Soderbergh’s highly enjoyably movie, and the “this time it’s personal” angle also mirrors the original in the form of an ex-boyfriend (Richard Armitage) who is responsible for Debbie’s incarceration. The spin-off project labours in the shadow of the original movie, and lacks the zingy dialogue, casual humour, and visual pizzazz achieved by Soderbergh. Although some of the cast members have barely anything to do, such as Cate Blanchett, who would have made a better Debbie Ocean that Sandra Bullock, and Helena Bonham-Carter, who disappears from view after setting the plot into motion, all the actresses are at their professional best.
Sandra Bullock’s preternatural calm doesn’t translate as well as it could have, although her German is far better than Mindy Kaling’s Hindi accent. Memorable among the others is Helena Bonham-Carter’s scatter-brained designer, Sarah Paulson’s quietly effective worker, and Rihanna’s hacker. But the movie belongs to Anne Hathaway, who juices humour out of her character’s shallowness in every one of her scenes. Hathaway carries off the movie’s most successful heist: she steals the show from under the noses of Debbie Ocean and company.