Monday, June 11, 2018

Ocean's Eight (2018) Plays It A Little Too Cool (spoiler free review)

Ocean's 8 Movie Review
Photo Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures
Since Ocean's 8 started stitching its cast list together in 2017, the reboot to Steven Soderbergh's Ocean's franchise took on huge expectations and a need to prove assumptions wrong before it ever hit theaters. Despite how epic the cast is or big the anticipation (or sleek the trailers are), sometimes the power to make a good movie isn't with those on the poster; it's with the actual powers-that-be. And unfortunately, this director plays it way too cool and practically topples the film like a house of cards.

Debbie Ocean (Sandra Bullock), estranged sister to Danny Ocean (George Clooney), spent five years, eight months, and twelve days in jail with one thing on her mind: pulling off her next con. Reunited with her team of grifters - Lou (Cate Blanchett), Amita (Mindy Kaling), Tammy (Sarah Paulson), Constance (Awkwafina), Nine Ball (Rihanna), Rose (Helena Bonham Carter), they make Hollywood's biggest star Daphne Kluger (Anne Hathaway) and jewelry powerhouse Cartier their next target. But Ocean's jewel heist isn't just any jewel heist: all she aims to do is break inside the Met Gala and walk out with $150,000,000. Easy.

If there's one thing that Ocean's 8 picked up steam with, as it was developed, was the cast. With such a big ensemble on its hands, one of the first questions that came to mind is whether or not Ocean's 8 could share the screen evenly between all of its stars. Surprisingly, it holds up. As an entirely new entry into the Ocean's universe and as the leader of this pack, Bullock takes on the role of Debbie with ease, as Blanchett equally rocks as her main partner-in-crime. A few characters manage to stick out from the crowd: Hathaway's vain and aloof Daphne, in particular, steals every scene she's in and is making a 'Hollywood comeback story' (at least for her haters); Awkwafina as spunky Constance (their main "thief") is quickly becoming a break-out star; Paulson makes a fitting transformation from tv to movies; Kaling and Rihanna round-out the tech wizards who keep the heist moving along. (Helena Bonham Carter is the only one who feels underused and slightly miscast). And, James Corden doesn't do too bad either as a charming British Colombo insurance agent. This merry band of misfits are all entertaining and bad-ass, and not a role feels wasted. Their relationships feel as if we're picking up right where everyone left off, even if we've never seen the backstory of how they got together in the first place.

And like the power of its cast, another pro is that the representation train is still hustling along, proving that female-led movies are here to stay. Similar to the Ghostbusters reboot in 2016, women still aren't box office poison and the ability to transform male-led films into the female-led ones have a wider reach with movie goers. If you haven't heard, Ocean's 8 has been upping the gayness by screaming lesbian energy, and is opening doors for lesbians who feel more represented through Debbie and Lou. Undoubtedly, there's a real passion behind female-led movies like this. With so many different women on-screen together like in Ocean's 8, it's hard not to walk out of the movie shipping characters and/or feeling like maybe you've got a thing or two up your sleeve to become a criminal of your own (please don't).
"You're not doing it for me. Or for you. There's an 8-year-old girl dreaming of becoming a criminal. You're doing this for her." - Debbie Ocean
No matter how great the cast is and the film's creating its own legion of fans, the movie itself is just okay. It's not because the movie is led by women; it's just okay because the atmosphere and aesthetic doesn't set itself apart. Unlike the first film of the modern Ocean's franchise (not the original 1960 version starring the Rat Pack), Ocean's 11 is just cool (subsequently, 12 and 13 aren't too bad either). Yes, its leading men George Clooney and Brad Pitt made movie goers swoon or want to be them, but most of all, Soderbergh created a swanky, noir atmosphere; from the music to the cinematography, the movie has a rhythm of its own. Even if Ocean's 11's story isn't all that unique compared to other heist movies, it took the genre to a whole other level and for good reasons.

Unfortunately, Ocean's 8 doesn't have somebody helming the project like Ocean's 11 did. On paper, Ocean's 8 has everything going for it: a great cast, the vibrant setting of NYC, the target of hundred million dollar jewelry, the impenetrable site of the Met Gala. But the man behind the curtain, director (and co-writer with Olivia Milch) Gary Ross doesn't take advantage of what he has to make it stand out.

Almost resting on the chill idea of robbing the Met Gala, it's like the movie doesn't want to make it cool or exciting to rob the Met Gala. Which is silly because beyond being familiar with the leading ladies, everyone pretty much knows what the Met Gala means as the most exclusive event in the world - a taste of the rich and famous through fashion. Yet the script leading up to the con goes through the motions: Debbie gets out of jail, the team assembles, and they rob the Met Gala. A few hiccups halt their scheme but they're not overtly nail-biting; a curveball is thrown in last-minute to add extra spice; even "the villain" is nothing to be deeply invested against. Once we're pass the coveted red carpet to the Met Gala though, the movie comes alive playing a who's who of famous faces you're going to see and making you wonder if they're going to pull it off. While most of the build-up is stuck in neutral, the con and its aftermath are far more exciting.  If the rest of the movie found a stronger groove from the beginning - even utilized a killer soundtrack and better editing or cinematography - this could've been a bigger winner all-around.

So one has to wonder though: if Ocean's 8 didn't copy the template of Ocean's 11 and its sequels, would it have dared to do more, despite having most of the right ingredients. It'd be wonderful to say that this one sets itself apart without primarily focusing on how awesome the cast is. But as reboots  increasingly become a genre, the newer editions can't be too tentative to not copy the original or be original on their own merits. If we're continuing this gender switch-up, the newer versions have to go  beyond "if you love the actresses, 'chances are' you're going to love the movie". Because sometimes "the fault" lies not with the cast's gender but the director's abilities.

Rating: ★1/2☆☆
Have you seen Ocean's 8? What did you think?

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