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Haunted Sideshow

Dustin Putman

Ocean's Eight  (2018)
2 Stars
Directed by Gary Ross.
Cast: Sandra Bullock, Cate Blanchett, Anne Hathaway, Helena Bonham Carter, Mindy Kaling, Sarah Paulson, Rhianna, Awkwafina, Richard Armitage, James Corden, Dakota Fanning, Elliott Gould, Shaobo Qin, Marlo Thomas, Dana Ivey, Mary Louise Wilson, Elizabeth Ashley, Katie Holmes, Anna Wintour.
2018 – 110 minutes
Rated: Rated PG-13 (for language, drug use, and some suggestive content).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman for, June 5, 2018.
"Ocean's Eight" does the bare minimum in order to coast on the diversion of seeing a host of appealing actors in front of the camera. With precious little to work with on the script level, however, the full breadth of their charisma is sapped. Apart, they have their moments. As a singular unit, their camaraderie proves a superficial afterthought. Fortunately, the heist is the thing, and it's a reasonably fun, if unsurprising, one. As a female-led spinoff of 2001's "Ocean's Eleven" and its two sequels, 2004's "Ocean's Twelve" and 2007's "Ocean's Thirteen," "Ocean's Eight" should have been sharper, smarter, and more interested in its leading ladies beyond the one or two traits each of them is given.

Debbie Ocean (Sandra Bullock) gets it honest while not being particularly honest at all. Sister of master thief Danny Ocean (played by George Clooney in the original trilogy), she is released from a five-year stay in prison with wistful claims to the parole board that she has learned her lesson and wants nothing more than "the simple life." The second she's out the door, she's back to her old tricks, swindling high-end stores out of merchandise she hasn't paid for and taking over hotel suites by impersonating customers who have just checked out. Reuniting with former partner-in-crime Lou (Cate Blanchett), the two women prepare their next score, and it's a doozy: infiltrate NYC's annual Met Gala and swipe a diamond necklace worth $150 million off of Hollywood actress Daphne Kluger (Anne Hathaway). To pull this off, Debbie and Lou will need to gather together a crew: fashion designer Rose Weil (Helena Bonham Carter), jewelry maker Amita (Mindy Kaling), tech whiz Nine Ball (Rhianna), ace pickpocket Constance (Awkwafina), and kleptomaniacal suburban mom Tammy (Sarah Paulson).

A caper comedy involving criminally shady characters viewers probably shouldn't root for but likely will, "Ocean's Eight" follows, beat for beat, the well-established conventions of this subgenre. The choosing of the score. The plotting of the mark. The assemblage of the accomplices. The planning of the heist. The unexpected last-minute corkscrew forcing the players to think quick on their feet. The cover-up. It's all here, and writer-director Gary Ross (2012's "The Hunger Games") and co-writer Olivia Milch's devoted adherence to formula keeps the picture from engaging as fully as it should. There is a curious stodginess to the proceedings, not helped by its uninspiring handling of characters who seem to exist only within the span of the running time. Potential interest arises when it is briefly suggested Debbie and Lou may be an ex-couple, but it frustratingly remains such a subtextual element in the narrative it may go over some audience members' heads.

The ensemble is underused, and it's a shame because how does one possibly waste Sandra Bullock (2015's "Our Brand Is Crisis") and Cate Blanchett (2017's "Thor: Ragnarok") when they are the lead protagonists? There is no attempt to dig into what makes them tick—that is, beside the theft of millions of dollars and, in Debbie's case, setting up the man responsible for sending her to jail, one Claude Becker (Richard Armitage). Helena Bonham Carter (2016's "Alice Through the Looking Glass") gets a few deliciously comic moments as perpetually nervous fashion designer Rose Weil, but it is Anne Hathaway (2015's "The Intern") who steals the show as the one-part insecure, ten-parts egotistical movie star Daphne Kluger. Hathaway has a way of making Daphne both unapologetically vapid and the smartest person in the room, all while luxuriating in her own fame and privilege. She's terrific. The rest of the cast—Mindy Kaling (2018's "A Wrinkle in Time"), Sarah Paulson (2015's "Carol"), Rhianna (2017's "Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets"), and Awkwafina (2016's "Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising")—are along for the ride with next to nothing to do. As a group, they are given little time to display chemistry or build friendships with each other; 2016's thoroughly entertaining, head-scratchingly underappreciated "Ghostbusters," this is not.

The first hour of "Ocean's Eight" is slow-going, its energy and forward momentum lagging when they should be accelerating, but once the first Monday in May arrives the film bursts to life. The Met Gala-set heist centerpiece is enticingly constructed and visually slick in a way the movie hasn't been up to this point. There is little suspense involved in whether or not the crew will be able to pull it off, but this segment is spry and involving all the same, and it's fun picking out the celeb cameos sprinkled throughout. As everything wraps itself up, though, it is difficult not feeling a tinge of disappointment in what might have been. The "where-are-they-now?" epilogue is emblematic of the screenplay's laziness; having not gotten to know any of these characters past their surface, the film is at a loss in imagining what their futures hold. The result is an unsatisfying denouement as disposable as what has gone before.
© 2018 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman

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