Talk about a dream team cast. Oceans 8 boasts enough female star power to rival the original series of film. Gary Ross directs this spin-off that stars Sandra Bullock, Cate Blanchett, Helana Bonham Carter, Anne Hathaway, Sarah Paulson, Mindy Kaling, Rihanna, and Awkwafina. How then does this stellar lineup result in such a mediocre time?
The issue begins with the script written by Ross and Olivia Milch. Two-thirds of the film is spent explaining the heist instead of showing it with style and flair. Bullock plays Debbie Ocean, Danny Ocean's (George Clooney) sister. Danny is dead and this allows for his recently released from prison sister to step up as the best con woman in town. The opening of the film mirrors Steven Soderbergh's 2001 film as Debbie vows to leave the life of crime behind her before getting released. Once she is out, she begins to assemble a team to pull off a heist she has been planning during her five years in the slammer.
First stop is Lou (Blanchett) who is her former partner and perhaps much more. The film annoyingly brushes over a possible romantic relationship between the two, perhaps in favor of pleasing the widest possible audience. This choice illustrates one of Oceans 8's main problems, the film has no bite or stakes to it. Debbie describes her elaborate plan to steal a $150 million Cartier diamond necklace during the Met Gala. She soon begins to build her team which includes Tammy (Paulson), a mother who steals merchandise on the regular. They add Nine Ball (Rihanna), a hacker who can handle security cameras and the like. Kaling's Amita is a jewel expert who will recreate the necklace and Constance (Awkwafina) is a fast pickpocket who is to pull off the exchange.
Their plan rests upon needing a high-profile celebrity to convince Cartier to let her wear the necklace out in public. To achieve this they elicit the out-of-fashion fashion designer Rose Weil (Carter) to convince Daphne Kluger (Hathaway) to choose her to design a dress for the evening that relies upon the necklace.
If this plot sounds a bit convoluted don't worry, the film explains it over and over again.
One of the joys of heist films are these kinds of details. It can be thrilling to watch a plan come together and then get executed with precision. However, Oceans 8 makes this exercise tiresome. It rarely dazzles us with how clever this plan is or how talented the women who pull it off are. Soderbergh's original series of films relied less on suspense and more on the charisma of its stars hanging out and pulling off a cool heist. The cast here doesn't ever gel the same way. I can't imagine these women actually hanging out with each other and there isn't much joy in watching them on screen together. This goes back to the issues with the screenplay. The dialogue feels lazy and the banter is never paced quippy enough to produce any big laughs. It was about 30 minutes into the film before the audience laughed at the screening I attended.
Ross is also not the stylistic director that Soderbergh is. The film features some terrible editing that drags the pace down to a crawl when it should race along. Sure you can have a great cast but if the characters lack defining personalities and the direction feels reliant upon the stars themselves, then the film never reaches the comedic heights it should.
Oceans 8 isn't without its pleasures and the film is never a complete train-wreck. The final third, centered around the heist, has enough momentum to be occasionally thrilling even when there isn't much conflict to create suspense. The fashion on-screen is also likely to delight many audiences. Hathaway steals every scene she is in thanks to a hammed up a performance that plays off the diva qualities of movie stars. She is the film's MVP.
Oceans 8 could have been a huge summer hit that reflects some of the cultural shifts in how Hollywood views female led blockbusters. However this lazy effort may actually harm that movement if the film does poorly. I wish more time had been spent on the screenplay, defining the characters more and peppering their interactions with more humor.