Ocean’s 8 is the all-female spin-off of the all-male Ocean’s trilogy and it’s a sop, with a third act that drags like nothing on earth. But its success — it earned an estimated $41.5 million during its opening weekend, which is better than any of the male versions — shows the market isn’t that bothered by content, which is equality of a kind. Women can now make dull formulaic franchise films too! Hurrah! We’ve arrived! And we can do this rubbish for ourselves now!
The film is a straight-up-and-down remake, where the gender swap may, in fact, be the best idea, possibly because it’s the only idea. (The Ghostbusters remake did it first anyhow.) It does not subvert the heist-caper genre in any way but instead follows the formula slavishly. The film opens with Debbie Ocean (Sandra Bullock), sister of con man Danny Ocean, being released from prison after a five-year stretch with, I couldn’t help but note, perfect hair and make-up. (I don’t know what prison it was exactly, but it wasn’t Holloway; I once visited someone there and she looked terrible.) Debbie has promised the parole officers that her criminal past is behind her and she just wants ‘a simple life’ and ‘to live in the country and breathe fresh air’. But the moment she’s out, she’s back in the game, shoplifting in department stores, impersonating her way into a posh hotel room, and Assembling a Team for a Heist. (First rule of any heist film: Assemble a Team for a Heist.)
Her team includes her best friend (Cate Blanchett), a down-at-heel dress designer (Helena Bonham Carter, who plays Irish, for some unfathomable reason), a hacker (Rihanna, who barely says a thing), an ex-con-turned-suburban mom (Sarah Paulson), a jeweller (Mindy Kaling), a pickpocket (Awkwafina) and, latterly, a vain actress (Anne Hathaway). (Hathaway’s character coming on board is meant to be a surprise plot twist, but we always knew she was going to swap sides because we can all count to eight, right?) It’s a killer cast and, to be fair, there is some appeal in just watching them all, even if they’re horribly underused, as no character has a distinct personality. And the heist? It’s the $150 million Cartier necklace they’re aiming to steal from the Met Gala Ball.
Directed by Gary Ross (Pleasantville, Seabiscuit, The Hunger Games), it is divided into your typical three acts: 1) plan the heist; 2) perform the heist; 3) aftermath of the heist. The third act, which needs a better twist than supposing we can’t count up to eight, certainly drags the most, but it’s all just so flat, including the performances. Bullock simply remains steely throughout while Hathaway is the only one to show any animation. Thankfully, it’s not noisy. There are no car chases or shoot-outs, but nothing has been put in their place, so it’s never dramatic or exciting. There is the occasional decent joke, as when Debbie says: ‘Somewhere out there an eight-year-old girl is dreaming of being a criminal. Let’s do it
for her.’ But otherwise the script is entirely colourless.
This isn’t knowing or witty or sly or self-aware and it doesn’t have fun with stereotypes. At least Ghostbusters, as dull as that was, had a sexy dim secretary who was a man. This simply buys the formula, without ever questioning it. Plus there’s a subplot, concerning Debbie’s ex (played by Richard Armitage), that seems entirely unnecessary. None of the other women are fussing over boyfriends, which is welcome, so why Debbie? And it does fetishise everything women are assumed to be interested in. The clothes! The hair! The jewels! The brand names! Glimpses of Anna Wintour and the Kardashians!
Still, it does prove we can make this sort of rubbish for ourselves now, which is good, unless we should be doing something else entirely.