The Rat Pack origins and Mad Men iconography of the original Ocean's 11 movies had pretty much disappeared by the end of the George Clooney/Steven Soderbergh reboots, but so had most of the idea's retro energy and appeal.
Diminishing box office returns suggested that the ostentatious glamour of the series sat uneasily with the Great Recession audiences, so where to go?
Ocean's 8 tries a gender swap, subbing out the all-male cast with female stars, and trading ensemble bromance for sisterly solidarity. The only holdover is Elliot Gould, as Danny's mentor and pal, who shows up at the outset to warn Danny's larcenous sister Debbie (Sandra Bullock) to avoid the ambitious heist she's been planning.
Debbie is just out of the joint, and she's spent the last several incarcerated years working out the details of a daring robbery — stealing a $150 million Cartier necklace from the neck of a haughty starlet (Anne Hathaway), who'll be wearing it at the Met Gala.
The movie assumes that everybody knows all about the Met Gala (there's a joke about how to pronounce it) which is the first sign that Ocean's 8 may be doing a poor job of reading the room.
On some level, director Gary Ross — he also cowrote with Olivia Milch — wants to establish an outsider tone. Streetwise operators plan to put one over on the swells. But that's hard to do when the women playing your streetwise operators, like Rihanna, are famous for attending the Met Gala (recently wearing giant replica a pope hat studded with rhinestones).
Other aspects of the movie — let's put the band together — are competent, if mechanical. Debbie Ocean bunks with old flame Lou (Cate Blanchett), and assembles a crack team of collaborators and specialists, a batty fashion designer (Helena Bonham Carter), a trafficker in stolen goods (Sarah Paulson), a pot-smoking hacker (Rihanna), a diamond cutter (Mindy Kaling), and a three-card-monte pickpocket (Awkwafina).
Chemistry among the women is smooth, maybe excessively so. In movies about hustlers and confidence games, there is usually the scent of underlying treachery, the possibility of dishonor among thieves. In The Sting, for instance, we wonder: Is Redford conning Newman? Is the movie conning us? That kind of tension is missing here.
In fact, the movie is so toothless that it has no villains at all. Debbie tries to settle a score with an old boyfriend, but his character barely registers, which is also a phrase that would apply to many of the movie's jokes.
The conflict is accidental and internal — between the movie's purported satire of the fashion industry (Bonham Carter conjuring Betsey Johnson) and it's goggle-eyed worship of it (OMG – there's Anna Wintour! At the Met Gala!).
Also, is the movie about stealing jewels or coveting them? The money scene isn't the heist, it's Anne Hathaway's (hilariously) visible excitement when the Cartier necklace is placed on her neck.