Ocean’s Eight: Flaws in the diamond

Cubic zirconia can look like diamonds from a distance.

It’s when you look closely that the flaws are exposed and it becomes apparent that it’s not a genuine diamond.

Ironically, swapping zirconia for diamonds is the major catalyst of “Ocean’s Eight,” a female-led heist spinoff of the classic “Ocean’s Eleven” trilogy that tries, and largely fails, to pass for the real thing.

Debbie Ocean has spent the past five years in prison planning the perfect score, following in her brother Danny’s footsteps. Upon her release, Debbie and partner-in-crime Lou begin rounding up a team of unlikely villainesses to snag a priceless diamond necklace off an unsuspecting actress during the illustrious Met Gala in New York City.

Headlining the film as ringleader Debbie, Sandra Bullock is up to her usual tricks, providing the necessary charm to pull audiences through increasingly implausible scenarios without battling an eye. Her natural ability to draw viewers provides a solid foundation upon which to build a solid ensemble and yet her performance seems very businesslike for much of the feature.

It’s only in the opening moments while Debbie goes on a five-finger shopping spree – sadly, the film’s best scene — and at the very end that it looks like Bullock is having any fun.

Cate Blanchett’s Lou, in many ways intended to be the feminine counterpart to Brad Pitt’s casually cool Rusty from the trilogy, attempts to bring a similarly effortless swag. Her work hits with a varying degree of success throughout the film, though sadly Blanchett brings more charisma outside of scenes opposite Bullock.

There’s a concerted, yet subtle undertone of unresolved, undeveloped sexual tension between Lou and Debbie, which would work much better in the overall scheme of the film if it paid off in any significant way.

Academy Award winner Anne Hathaway steals the show, however, as high-strung A-lister Daphne Kluger, the patsy in Debbie’s grand scheme. From start to finish, Hathaway is a breath of fresh air on screen as it’s clear she enjoys going against type as egotistical fashionista.

The men of “Ocean’s Eight” relatively take the role of simple window dressing with Richard Armitage poorly filling the shoes of the movie’s requisite villain. “Ocean’s Eight” probably would have been better served by casting someone with a higher profile or at least an actor whose off-screen persona would have been ripe for providing the character background nearly every performer lacks in the final product.

Boiling every member of the gang to a simple gimmick doesn’t really help things either. Performances are going to feel flat when describing characters is as simple as Rihanna’s computer hacker who loves to smoke weed or Mindy Kaling’s jewel expert who wants to get out of her mother’s house.

Perhaps it wasn’t the best idea to place an all-female heist flick in the hands of the guy who made “Seabiscuit.” The haphazard pacing, lack of character development and uneven tone of director Gary Ross’s feature belie a man seemingly ill-equipped to produce anything beyond pedestrian work.

This appears most blatantly in the timid, “paint by numbers” screenplay he co-wrote with Olivia Milch, a script that follows Steven Soderbergh’s “Ocean’s Eleven” so closely that scenes are shamelessly lifted from the 2001 film and repackaged as caricature. It’s easiest to spot in the opening moments of the film as Bullock’s Debbie talks her way out of prison on parole in identical fashion to George Clooney’s Danny, without the requisite flair and panache.
Nothing feels new or original in “Ocean’s Eight,” just pickpocketed from the Soderbergh trilogy or any number of heist movies.

Though the 2001 classic didn’t exactly re-invent the wheel – itself being a reboot of the 1960s Frank Sinatra film of the same name – “Ocean’s Eleven” felt fresh because of Soderbergh’s directorial vision, crafty shot selection and flawless casting. If there is a style to “Ocean’s Eight,” it’s in this celebration of high fashion that litters the film’s plot, costuming and cinematography.

“Ocean’s Eight” is fan fiction if anything else.

That being said, it’s an incredibly easy watch because there aren’t really any stakes enough. Sequences in the film feel enjoyable in the moment, but almost as easily forgettable. The talents of Bullock, Hathaway and company are readily on display as are a glittering array of fashion icons and other celebrity cameos.

At a basic level, “Ocean’s Eight” delivers on being a whole lot of no-frills fun. While it doesn’t quite hit the mark of the original trilogy or last year’s southern heist romp “Logan Lucky,” most audiences will probably leave the theaters satisfied, or at least not feel robbed, by Bullock and company.

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