Part of the bargain we make while watching movies about a heist or a con is that we’re willing to root for criminals. Whether they’re out for revenge (“The Sting”) or merely a big score (“Kelly’s Heroes”), if the lead characters are likable enough, we want to see them get away with it.
In “Ocean’s 8,” there’s likability galore, with a twist — the people planning and executing the crime are women, and they’re just as good as their male counterparts in the Steven Soderbergh movies this one is modeled after.
Sandra Bullock plays Debbie Ocean, sister of the character played by George Clooney three previous times. As the movie starts, she’s getting out of jail by promising to walk the straight and narrow, but as soon as she’s released, she’s back to her thieving ways. She meets up with her former partner in crime, played by Cate Blanchett, and tells her about a heist she’s been planning the entire time she was in the slammer. Cate’s onboard, but they’ll need a crew, so we get several scenes in which the rest of the cast is recruited and introduced.
Sarah Paulson is a suburban housewife who doubles as a fence for stolen products. Rihanna is the mandatory hacker extraordinaire. Awkwafina is a pickpocket. Mindy Kaling is a jeweler. Helena Bonham Carter is a fashion designer who is going to make a fabulous outfit for Anne Hathaway, a narcissistic actress, to wear to The Met Gala, the annual over-the-top event full of big names who want to be seen looking their best. Not only is Hathaway going to wear a dress designed by Carter, but she’s also going to wear a Cartier necklace worth $150 million — and that’s the target Bullock and company have their eyes set on. I’ll stop describing the plot right there, because the fun of movies like this is watching the caper unspool before your eyes.
All of these actresses are at the top of their game, from their performances to their dazzling costumes to their on-screen chemistry — particularly Bullock and Blanchett, who nail every line and expression (like the pros they are). The actresses look like they’re having even more fun than their characters.
The breakout performer is Awkwafina, a rapper I wasn’t familiar with, who doesn’t miss a beat and keeps up with her more experienced co-stars the whole way. FYI, Awkwafina is one of the stars of the upcoming “Crazy Rich Asians,” which I won’t need to see because the entire movie has been ruined by the trailer we had to sit through before “Ocean’s 8.” It’s not a tease when you give away every important plot point in under three minutes.
I’ll never be able to explain Carter’s hairdo except to say it looks like she saw the hot mess on top of Carol Kane’s head in 1979 and decided to duplicate it in every role she plays. Mission accomplished again!
As you watch “Ocean’s 8,” keep your eyes open for Griffin Dunne, Dakota Fanning, Marlo Thomas, and Elizabeth Ashley among the supporting cast. In the Met Gala scenes, you’ll probably spot lots of other celebrities in cameos, including Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour and members of the extended Kardashian clan who I couldn’t care less about or pick out of a lineup. There are also appearances by a couple of members of the “Ocean’s Eleven” cast, but I won’t tell you who.
Then there’s James Corden as an insurance investigator called in to figure out what happened to that diamond necklace. He steals every scene he’s in, a formidable task considering who he shares screen time with. You wouldn’t be surprised if you knew that, before becoming a late-night TV host, Corden won a Tony for starring in “One Man, Two Guvnors” on Broadway (after a long run in London), as well as the British equivalent of an Emmy for a sitcom he did there called “Gavin and Stacey.” The man’s got skills.
Writer/director Gary Ross (“Big,” “Seabiscuit,” “Dave,” “Pleasantville,” and “The Hunger Games”) lets the cast shine and keeps the pace moving briskly, with help from Daniel Pemberton’s just-right score. While the banter isn’t as light and funny as Clooney and company had in “Ocean’s Eleven,” it’s certainly a lot better than that movie’s two sequels (and all of them are far more watchable than the horrid 1960 original that starred the Rat Pack). The other movie to compare “Ocean’s 8” to is “Logan Lucky,” in which Soderbergh directed Channing Tatum, Daniel Craig, Adam Driver, Riley Keogh, and Katie Homes through another really good heist romp, this time at the Charlotte Motor Speedway. If I were ranking all of these movies, I’d put “Ocean’s 8” in a tie for second place with “Logan Lucky,” behind the Clooney/Pitt “Ocean’s Eleven,” with the rest of the pack way behind.
I liked “Ocean’s 8” enough to recommend it (8.5 out of 10) as one of my favorite movies thus far this year. I hope it will do well enough at the box office that the gang will get a chance to reunite for “Ocean’s 9.” I’d happily root for them to rip off someone new.
Previously on Harris Online…