“Ocean’s 8” Bungles the Caper, Characters, and Cleverness
The problem with the reboot of “Ghostbusters” wasn’t that the four leads were women, but rather that the film script wasn’t particularly clever. The same thing plagues “Ocean’s 8”, the new addition to the Ocean’s franchise. The fault lies not in its all-female gallery of thieves, but in its ho-hum script. It was an inspired idea to do it as a women’s caper, filled out with a strong mix of interesting actresses, but the screenplay leaves them stranded too much of the time. Sure, there’s a certain breezy quality to it all, and a certain amount of panache to the group robbing something as tony as the Met Gala, but it lacks the Rube Goldberg cleverness of the films that starred George Clooney.
Unfortunately, Clooney isn’t this one, not even for a cameo, as his character of Danny Ocean is dead. Good heavens, why start off a comedy with something as depressing like that? From there,“Ocean’s 8” only runs into more and more problems. Debbie Ocean, Danny’s sister, is the main character here, but she’s set up with far too much seriousness and baggage. In the opening minutes, she aces her parole hearing and should be thrilled to be out. Instead, Debbie is a total downer as she glumly starts planning her huge museum robbery and gathering up her fellow cons to help.
The way Sandra Bullock plays Debbie, you’d think this was a Liam Neeson thriller. Her take on Debbie is far too dour as she clomps around throughout the first half hour of the film assembling her team. Bullock made her bones in jaunty, effervescent comedies, but you wouldn’t know it from the way she plays this material. Her Debbie is a black hole, sucking the life out of most of the fizz, her dark eyes failing to light up any moment with even a smidgen of joie de vivre.
Is her sullen take due to the fact that this is really a revenge tale against a shitty boyfriend? The foil here turns out to be gallery owner Claude Becker (Richard Armitage), a cad who set his girlfriend Debbie up to take the fall in an art scam. Perhaps Gary Ross and Olivia Milch were attempting to give their script an element of #MeToo and #TimesUp, but such seriousness seems way out of place in what should be a zesty comedy. Debbie and her crew should have been enough female empowerment, but the fact that her entire con swirls around besting a past lover gives it the wrong flavor.
The rest of the script continues to make mistakes that belie both the fun and feminism. There is little banter between Debbie and her crew suggesting genuine friendship or camaraderie. She and Lou (Blanchett), her right-hand gal, are supposed to be old pals but little in their rapport suggests that they could finish each other’s sentences. And beyond the “too cool for school” air about her, Blanchett’s Lou doesn’t even register much as a character. Expensive sunglasses and leather jackets are not personality traits, merely fashion. Even Lou’s sins seem harmless. She’s a club owner who waters down the vodka. Really, that’s the edgiest they could make her?
The other characters have few discernible attributes beyond their skillsets needed to steal a $150 million necklace at the Met. Kaling plays Amita, the jewelry designer they need to recreate the priceless accessory, but that begins and ends her character description. Constance (Awkwafina) is a pickpocket and sure, we see her slight-of-hand talents, but there is little else to her. Helena Bonham Carter is supposed to be a batty fashion designer, and she certainly looks the part, but Carter gets little to do other than sit around in zany costumes. Rihanna is the only one of the cons who truly registers. Her computer hacker is so confident in her skills that nothing bothers her. She’s ultra-chill in every scene and that alone gets some of the film’s biggest laughs.
And why one earth cast such a spectacular talent like Sarah Paulson only to give her mostly exposition to spout? She’s a suburban mom who’s also a crackerjack fence, but she spends most of the film telling characters about the comings and goings of other characters. Thankfully, the film has Anne Hathaway and James Corden in strong support. Hathaway plays self-absorbed actress Daphne Kluger, the neck that Debbie’s crew has to rob the necklace from, and she earns big laughs throughout with her acerbic line readings and physical schtick. Corden only shows up for the last 20 minutes, but he injects some much-needed energy into the finale to help the film stick its landing.
Ross, who also directed, gives it all a high-gloss sheen, and the lush costuming, jazzy scoring, and punchy editing are all terrific. Still, he seems far more interested in the surprise cameos than he does in surprising plot twists. Most of what occurs in the story can be seen coming reels in advance, including the fact that Debbie’s team has only seven players. Who’s the eighth player? “Ocean’s 8” is so obvious, the very poster gives up that surprise.
Worst of all, the film’s heist never seems particularly risky. Everything falls into place all too readily, just as everyone escapes harm all too easily. And Armitage’s foil is never a worthy opponent like Andy Garcia was in “Ocean’s 11”, and Al Pacino was in “Ocean’s 13.” There is also something very outdated about the ‘girliness’ of all these women playing dress-up at the ball. After the success of the heist, even the behind-the-scenes players like Rihanna and Kaling get their Cinderella moment, walking the Met’s stairs in designer gowns. “Ocean’s 8”, on far too many levels, really misses the mark.
Want a sneak preview of Ocean’s 8? Click to watch the trailer below.
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