Remember how Danny Ocean needed 10 friends (and then 11, and then 12) to pull off his heists? In Ocean’s Eight, his sister, Debbie (Sandra Bullock), only needs six collaborators (plus a seventh, eventually, as spoiled by the title) to perpetrate an impossible theft of priceless jewels. Are women better at multitasking than men are? Or did Ocean’s Eight just not have the budget for a dozen actresses? Both explanations are plausible.
This is a light, well-oiled bit of frippery directed by Gary Ross (Seabiscuit, Free State of Jones), written by him and Olivia Milch (who wrote and directed the Netflix film Dude). A spinoff of the George Clooney-and-friends trilogy, it affects the same debonair posture and delivers much of the same cool amusement, albeit with less pizzazz and cleverness. More so than its predecessors, Eight gets by on the charm of its cast — but that charm is formidable, and the movie gets by just fine.
Debbie, a smooth con artist and high-class thief like her brother, is fresh out of prison, having been double-crossed by her boyfriend/partner Claude Becker (Richard Armitage) several years ago. She’s spent her time away planning a complicated new job that entails convincing Cartier’s to lend a fabulously valuable necklace to a celebrity to wear during the swanky annual Met Gala, and then stealing the necklace right off the celeb’s neck during the party.
She swiftly assembles a team: her old scam-running friend Lou (Cate Blanchett); Rose Weil (Helena Bonham Carter), a once-prominent Irish fashion designer in need of a career boost; Amita (Mindy Kaling), a jeweler who’s been known to engage in under-the-table operations; computer hacker Nine Ball (Rihanna); master pickpocket Constance (Awkwafina); and Tammy (Sarah Paulson), a full-time mom and part-time fence for stolen property. That’s seven; the eighth will be the celebrity who wears the necklace, who won’t know she’s part of a heist. They choose Daphne Kluger, played by Anne Hathaway doing a funny parody of an Anne Hathaway type — neurotic, overdramatic, lovable in a “theater geek” kind of way.
Once and forever America’s Sweetheart Sandra Bullock presides over the movie with customary good humor and benevolence, and no one in the main cast gets shorted. Rihanna, Kaling, Blanchett, Paulson, Awkwafina (from Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising), and Bonham Carter (having more apparent fun than she’s had in a while) all play a key role in the heist and get at least a few moments in the spotlight — another advantage of a streamlined cast. (Weren’t there always two or three guys in the other Ocean’s movies who didn’t seem like they needed to be there?)
But the plot — and I mean the movie’s plot as well as the “plot” of the heist — lacks the devilish creativity that makes the best heist movies so rewarding. Debbie’s rivalry with the guy who sent her up the river isn’t established well enough to provide adequate satisfaction when she turns the tables, and the job itself doesn’t present enough setbacks or unforeseen obstacles. The film has an “Oh, that’s it?” kind of ending — you feel good, you enjoyed it, but wish the score had been a little bigger.