Hollywood loves guilt by association. The thought being that reminding people of a popular film property will be enough to drive butts to seats. It works often enough, but sometimes a movie can get burned by the comparisons.
The “Ocean’s Eleven” film series got by on an all-star cast, a lot of charm and pluck along with director Steven Soderbergh’s flair for style — with a touch of absurdity.
“Ocean’s 8” looks to practice addition by subtraction, not only in the number of stars but in the lack of Soderbergh. Unfortunately, director Gary Ross (“Seabiscuit,” “The Hunger Games”) is no Soderbergh and in spite of the cast’s best efforts, “Ocean’s 8” doesn’t quite measure up to the rest of the series.
Featuring a decidedly feminine slant, “Ocean’s 8” stars Sandra Bullock as Debbie Ocean, sister of master criminal Danny Ocean (played by George Clooney in the original films). Crime runs in the family as we meet Debbie fresh on parole and looking to make a very big score.
She meets up with her old partner Lou (the great Cate Blanchett) and the two go about assembling a gang of ladies that includes a fashion designer (Helena Bonham Carter), a jeweler (Mindy Kaling), a hacker (Rihanna), a pickpocket (Awkwafina) and a fence (Sarah Paulson).
The target is a ridiculously expensive necklace that is to be worn to the fabulous Met Gala by movie star Daphne Kluger (Anne Hathaway). Apply the formula of pretty much every heist film ever and you get the idea of how the rest plays out.
“Ocean’s 8” works best when it is focused on the ladies pulling the job. Bullock and Blanchett are pros in every sense of the word and they are a fun pairing to watch work.
The movie trips up when it tries to add Debbie’s old boyfriend (Richard Armitage) as a target for revenge and it has problems trying to decide what to do with Hathaway’s character.
I’m down with Anne and she clearly has a great time playing a spoiled starlet, but she doesn’t really gel with the rest of the movie and, in the end, winds up as more of a distraction than anything else.
Ultimately, the movie just can’t break free from the weight of expectations of being an “Ocean’s” movie and all that entails. If it were merely called “Jewel Heist!” with the same cast and premise in place it might have fared better and perhaps the filmmakers would have been able to spread their creative wings a bit more.
Instead, you get a movie that’s enjoyable enough but leaves you feeling like it could have been much, much more. I suppose there’s always next time.
“Ocean’s 8” is rated PG-13 for language, drug use, and some suggestive content.