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Ocean’s 8
(2018)

(SPOILERS) There’s nothing wrong with the gender-swapped property per se, any more than a reboot, remake or standard sequel exploiting an original’s commercial potential (read: milking it dry). As with those more common instances, however, unless it ekes out its own distinctive territory, gives itself a clear reason to be, it’s only ever going to be greeted with an air of cynicism (whatever the current fashion for proclaiming it valid simply because it's gender swapped may suggest to the contrary).  The Ocean's series was pretty cynical to start with, of course – Soderbergh wanted a sure-fire hit, the rest of the collected stars wanted the kudos of working with Soderbergh on a "classy" crowd pleaser, the whole concept of remaking the '60s movie was fairly lazy, and by the third one there was little reason to be other than smug self-satisfaction – so Ocean's 8 can’t be accused of letting any side down. It also gives itself distinctively – stereotypically? – female-skewed heist material in lifting a necklace at a fashion show, contrasting with those testosterone-fuelled casinos. Ultimately, though, it skews too closely in tone to Ocean's 13, possessed of a sense of complacency that never quite gives way to infectious enthusiasm for its cause.


One presumes director Gary Ross – doubtless taking on the project because his post-Hunger Games attempt at awards cachet Free State of Jones bombed hideously – and producer Soderbergh made a nominal attempt to lend the production side the quality of equality (Olivia Milch is credited as co-writer, Juliette Welfling as editor, although Soderberg, no stranger to helping Ross out on projects, probably had his fingers in both the editing and photographing pies). But only nominally. You don't get the impression anyone cared enough about Ocean's 8 to make it stand out from the pack. It arrives as an afterthought, a cash-in on recently popularised (or recognised as popular) trend of female-led movies that aren't Ghostbusters remakes that would probably have been more viable about five years ago. Which means it's debatable whether the clearly earmarked (numerically) sequels will materialise.


Soderbergh was quoted as saying any further films with the original crew (or the original remake crew) would be unlikely due to Bernie Mac's passing (then only recently having been murdered for protesting underground cloning centres), but it feels like the idea of a female version ought to have been knocking around before it was announced in 2015. Like the Clooney version, this is a mix of high- and not-so-high-profile names, led by a trio of movie stars (Rhianna couldn’t quite be considered that), and in Sandy Buttock's case at least, offering easy charisma to make up for a shortfall in character (so just like her screen brother George). Cate Blanchett is there to look cool in leather with a spikey fringe as Debbie Ocean's right-hand woman, so pencil she's basically Brad Pitt, but the rest are less defined in terms of substitutions. Which is a good thing on one level, but also points to a failing of these ensembles; they rarely have sufficient time for their performers to make much of a mark. 


Helena Bonham-Carter is good fun as a scatter-brained fashion designer, while this is probably the best thus far of Rhianna's shall-we say-eclectic choices of movie roles. Awkafina's also notable as an attitudinous pickpocket. Sarah Paulson's garage is more memorable than she is (but her line "This is mommy's very special work trip" is a good 'un), and Mindy Kaling also gets a few strong lines (and is established amusingly) but rather disappears into the mix once the team is assembled. Not being one for sums, I failed to tot up that this comprised only seven individuals. The eighth, by rights, ought to have been Shaobo Qin from Danny's crew, since he's eventually revealed as of intrinsic value to the Met Gala heist. But no, in a twist (un)worthy of Ocean's 12, the eighth member turns out to be Anne Hathaway's shallow celeb, central to the team’s scam since she's the unknowing prop for their diamond heist. 


I should hold my hand up and say that I consider Ocean's 12 the best of the original trilogy; it's a caper that does something different, has Soderbergh seemingly energised and having fun – was there ever a director who makes genre hopping and multi-hyphenation seem so much of a chore and bore? He’s possibly Hollywood's most passionless auteur – and is blessed with an irresistible David Homes score. It also has (SPOILER) a crucial third-act scene revolving around Julia Roberts' character resembling Julia Roberts (and Bruce Willis playing himself), a move that was a shark-jumping turn off for many viewers. While I wouldn't argue it's the finest hour of screenwriting, it wasn't a deal breaker for me as I was enthusiastic about the rest of the movie. 


Here, the twist that the empty-headed starlet chucking her vacuous guts up turns out to be a shrewd operator felt nothing so much as an appeasement of Hathaway's vanity (or maybe a means not to make a movie celebrating women – albeit criminal women – one where one of their gender is identified as an object of ridicule and disdain). I certainly didn’t buy into it in terms of characters (a huge gamble on Debbie's part to choose to trust her) or as a "clever" plot twist. I also found myself pondering that it would only be so long before someone in this motley crew, armed with $38m a piece, made a mistake and brought the law down on them. Although, I guess that was as true (and turned to out to be so) of her brother's operation.


Ross ensures the main heist is a smoothly entertaining bit of business, which rather makes up for the flabby build-up involving only two minor impediments to progress (scanning the necklace underground proves an ordeal, thus allowing for much frantic mugging from Bonham-Carter, and there's also a magnetic lock on it). Everything after it goes down successfully – including Hathaway's reveal – is much less convincing. There's James Corden – never a pleasure – showing up as an insurance investigator, whose relationship with Debbie is never entirely clear in terms of his proving willing to settle for a tenth of the necklace returned (what will this mean for his reputation? Doesn't matter, the plot demands that he's a sympathetic antagonist). 


Then there's the selling of the other pieces (Wiki, likely to be changed since I don't think it makes sense, but I'm not sure it makes sense anyway, has it that "Debbie sells pieces of the necklace to actresses disguised as elderly socialites, who in turn sell the jewellery and deposit the money into an account in his (Becker's) name". I'm not sure she would have sold the pieces to the people she hired?) As for having stolen all the display jewellery, it flashes by as an embellishment and so lacks any impact (it might have carried more weight had they lost the necklace, with it then revealed they had something better). You want a heist movie’s twists to elicit an admiring "Oh, that's clever" as opposed to a "Yeah, whatever".


Richard Armitage is also present and correct as the object of Debbie's revenge, but fails to rise to the challenge on several levels. Armitage simply isn't loathsome enough, but more, the character needs to be identified as a scumbag we really want to see go down, as opposed to a cowardly chancer unworthy of such long-planned and meticulously-engineered payback. You need to care about justice being served, but like the heist, you end up shrugging.


With the caveat that it's very much in the style of David Holmes’ earlier series entries, Daniel Pemberton delivers a fun, jaunty, witty score (Fugue in D Minor is a particular treat). That shouldn't be a surprise, as after his work on the last couple of Guy Ritchie movies anything with his name attached is instantly worth a listen. If you're going for a replica, his approach is preferable to Ross' (who also co-wrote) hollow imitation. Ocean's 8 is fine, but you won't remember it any more than Ocean's 13 (which, beyond Matt Damon's fake nose, you likely won't). 



Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.

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