'Ocean's 8' Review: A Light, Fluffy, And Altogether Pleasant Heist Flick

The ingredients to pull off an entertaining heist movie are much the same as those needed to pull off the heist itself. First, there has to be motley crew, each of whom has specific talents that will come in handy at the opportune moment. Then, there needs to be a big enough haul worthy of a cinematic heist, followed by moments of high tension, only to be resolved; and a deserving enough bad guy whose misdeeds are enough that you want other criminals to rob him or her blind.

Ocean's 8 gets a lot of elements of the heist subgenre correct, but stumbles in setting up an antagonist for the antiheroic ensemble to steal from.

If the title wasn't enough of a hint, it doesn't take long for this movie to establish itself as a direct spin-off of Steven Soderbergh's fizzy, slick and generally wonderful Ocean's trilogy from the 2000s. (Here is your daily reminder that the "Tess plays Julia Roberts" scene in Ocean's Twelve is one of Soderbergh's best setpieces, period.) Sandra Bullock plays Danny Ocean's sister, Debbie, fresh from a stint in prison for art fraud. She wastes no time in getting a crew together to pull off her biggest crime yet: stealing a massive diamond necklace in the middle of the haute-couture event of the year, the Met Gala in New York City. But as her crew — including Cate Blanchett, Sarah Paulson, and Helena Bonham Carter — realizes, Debbie is also out to get Claude Becker (Richard Armitage), an ex-lover with whom she has a checkered past.

Ocean's 8 (according to the poster, though the title in the film itself is Ocean's Eight) is an inversion on Soderbergh's trilogy in more ways than one. The screenplay, co-written by director Gary Ross and Olivia Milch, makes it clear that this is a female-driven heist, of course. (At one point, Debbie turns down a possible participant in the gang because "it's a him.") More importantly, a lot of the film mirrors Soderbergh's 2001 remake of the original Ocean's 11. As in Soderbergh's film, we meet our hero in front of a parole board, denying the possibility of getting up to no good on the outside; as in that film, our hero is matched by an old friend (Blanchett in the Brad Pitt role) who is smart enough to be wary of Ocean dabbling in revenge. The twist of Debbie aiming to get Claude Becker back feels like the inverse of Danny Ocean robbing three casinos so he can get his wife Tess back in his life, too.

Largely, this familiarity isn't a huge problem. If anything, it's a welcome surprise that Ross — who's friends with Soderbergh, on board here as a co-producer — apes his fellow director's style decently. (The cinematography by Eigil Bryld leans into Soderbergh's stylistic choices as well, with plenty of off-kilter shots and quick zoom-ins to key information.) There's not much mention of Danny or his crew (though there are a couple of cameos), but Ocean's 8 feels of a piece with the previous three films. Much of the feminine ensemble is also just fun to watch: Bullock is something of a straight-man type, but Blanchett, Anne Hathaway, Carter, Rihanna, Paulson, Awkwafina and Mindy Kaling have an unforced chemistry that shines even during the requisite scenes that feel at home in any heist movie. That said, since there are fewer members in this Ocean's crew, it's almost a sin that the film strands Kaling; many of the other women have a highlight or two, but she's left out.

The over-familiarity of Ocean's 8 works against its favor when grappling with the supposed villain. There are hints of Claude Becker just being a general scumbag, but the script waits a while to reveal why Debbie has it out for this pretentious art-world fop. (Aside from him being a pretentious art-world fop.) After we learn more of her backstory, there's still a slightly reduced level of suspense to the second half. Ross does a solid enough job of setting up each character's duty and how all the pieces need to fall into place, but the third act has an oddly anticlimactic feel in part because Becker is a muted antagonist.

Ocean's 8 isn't nearly as good as any of Steven Soderbergh's Ocean's trilogy. It echoes many of the earlier series' charms, but never quite enough that it stands entirely on its own. (This film has, as a last example, a vastly more forced attempt at the "Clair de Lune"-style closer from Ocean's Eleven.) Though Ocean's 8 can't hope to meet the quality of those other films, Gary Ross has at least made a decent spin-off. It's good enough to suggest the promise of future installments with a little bit more spunk and willingness to veer somewhat away from the male-driven trilogy./Film Rating: 6 out of 10