Casting eight female stars, all consummate scene-stealers, as master thieves in a gender-reversed spin on the all-dude Ocean’s 11 trilogy? It’s a smart idea – not to mention smashing fun. Yes, the plot has more holes than a wheel of swiss cheese and director Gary Ross (The Hunger Games) lets the script he wrote with Olivia Milch go slack in its mid-section, but odds are you won’t give a fuck. Ocean’s 8 is a heist caper that looks gorgeous, keeps the twists coming and bounces along on a comic rhythm that’s impossible to resist. What more do you want in summer escapism?
Sandra Bullock, all sass and steel, stars as Debbie Ocean, just out of prison on a five-year rap and determined not to go straight. (Debbie is Danny Ocean’s sister; no, George Clooney does not appear.) She’s had half a decade in the slammer to figure out her ultimate scam. Every year New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art throws a charity costume ball that brings out the famous in outrageously expensive designer duds and jewels – it’s known as the Met Gala and has more security than the U.S. Mint. But our parolee aims to get in and steal the Toussaint, a $150 million diamond necklace from Cartier that will hang from the swan-like neck of movie star Daphne Kluger, played by Anne Hathaway in the most hilarious sendup of celebrity vanity in ages. Take that, Hatha-haters!
The thing is, Debbie can’t pull off the heist alone. So she recruits her best friend Lou (Cate Blanchett, taking glam to the next level). And Ms. Ocean is supposed to be pining for a prettyboy gallery owner (Richard Armitage) who done her wrong, but let’s be honest: Bullock and Blanchett show a flirty chemistry that’s far more intriguing. As it should be, in a romp where the dudes are basically accessories, although James Corden gets in a few licks as insurance investigator who pops in near the end.
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. The hijinks come when Debbie and Lou assemble their team: There’s dizzy, fizzy Helena Bonham Carter as Rose Weil, a past-her-prime 1980s fashion designer they’ll need to dress Daphne for the party. Sarah Paulson is Tammy, a suburban mom who traffics in stolen goods on the side. Mindy Kaling is Amita, a jewelry expert with a Mindy Kaling glint in her eye. And how about Rihanna, a regular at Met Galas, dressed down in fatigues and combat boots to play a hacker named Nine-Ball. These top-tier stars don’t get nearly enough to do, though watch out for breakout star Awkwafina – this hip-hop ball of fire makes every comic minute count as a sleight-of-hand artist who walks off with every scene she’s in. Her bit about a Metro Card is priceless.
In the end, Ross connects the dots of the robbery with a functional competence that can’t compare with the high style director Steven Soderbergh lavished on the male Ocean’s films. It’s the ladies who carry this caper flick over its rough spots. “Somewhere out there,” Debbie tells her cohorts, “there’s an eight-year-old girl dreaming of becoming a criminal. You’re doing this for her.” They’re doing it for us, too. What dude wouldn’t want to enjoy the company of eight actresses who make a zirconium plot sparkle likes diamonds. In summing up her strategy – and not coincidentally Hollywood’s archaic attitude toward female buddy movies (look what happened to the Ghostbusters reboot) – Debbie points out that “a him gets noticed and a her gets ignored.” Not this time, sister. You can take Ocean’s 8 to the bank.