So maybe you have a film franchise that is running out of steam. Maybe one of the stars wants out. Maybe his character was killed off to accommodate that. Maybe an actress has an idea for reviving that franchise with some panache and a dash of ovarian power. You can’t help thinking that one of these things, possibly all of them, are true about the genesis of OCEAN’S 8, a frothy caper film long on glamor, short on logic, and replete with guilty pleasure.
Hollywood is all about refreshing itself. Whether it be actors refreshing their eyelids or jowls and, lord help us, hoo-haws and woo-woos, or studio cash cows finding a way to attract a new audience while maintaining its old ones. In OCEAN’S 8, we have just that as George Clooney and company hand things off to Sandra Bullock and company with a film in which the clever thieves stay a step or two ahead of the authorities, and the film itself stays a step or two ahead of its audience.
Bullock is Debbie Ocean, sister of Danny. She’s been spending the last five years in prison plotting the perfect performance for the parole board, and the perfect heist so that she won’t be forced the live the simple life she extols to that board. Was it carelessness that landed her in the pokey? Yes, but of the heart. Her genius for the complicated, split-second timing of an impossible heist is unimpeachable. Hence her doing the one thing she was warned against when granted parole, falling right back in with her criminal pals.
That would be the 8 of the title, of course, starting with Lou (Cate Blanchett), who went from running bingo scams with Debbie to watering down drinks in her own club. She also serves as the tidy expository device for us to learn what Debbie has in mind. She wants to steal a six-pound diamond necklace that has spent the last thirty years behind five feet of concrete in Cartier’s basement vault. Oh, and she wants to do it by crashing the most exclusive party in the Western Hemisphere, the Met Gala. What ensues doesn’t pretend to be anything but the light escapist fantasy it wants to be, played out in fancy dresses, tartly ironic quips, and a daring insouciance from Bullock and company that is irresistible.
What verisimilitude there is comes from the cameos by Anna Wintour and the usual suspects of red carpet spectaculars, including a delicious exchange in German between Bullock and Heidi Klum. Bullock, who mother was German, uses that particular skill during the heist part of the caper with a palpable relish. The rest is pure fantasy, starting with Anne Hathaway as the mercurial uber-narcissist of an actress on whom the caper hinges, and moving smartly through Helena Bonham-Carter as the addled and debt-ridden fashion maven who has hit the skids, Mindy Kaling as the jeweler with mother issues, Sarah Paulson as the twitchy suburban soccer-mom with a garage full of hot merchandise, Rihanna as the ultra-chill computer hacker, and Awkwafina as the skateboarding pickpocket with deadpan nerves of steel to go with her light fingers. There’s also a smarmy but hunky art-dealer ex-boyfriend (Richard Armitage), and James Corden as the goal-oriented insurance investigator who almost steals the film from the women.
How all these characters play off one another is the epitome of cool, but to give away anything about the twists and turns would be anything but. Suffice to say that there are well-executed jabs at popular culture and a way of celebrating the feminine that has nothing to do with being a lady or sharing the spotlight. In its light-hearted way, it’s kinda radical. It’s also a great popcorn flick that, of course, leaves itself open to a sequel. We’re only on 8, after all. That’s at least two more before we hit the conundrum that might or might not be OCEAN’S 11.