‘Ocean’s 8’ stars steal scenes, jewelry in entertaining but unmemorable spinoff

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Grade: 3.5/5.0

Eight of Hollywood’s most acclaimed female celebrities walk into the Met Gala.

This isn’t inherently unusual — stars regularly attend the first Monday in May’s most acclaimed event, more formally known as the Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute Benefit. Yet this is more or less the plot of Gary Ross’ “Ocean’s 8,” told through the franchise’s signature heist framework.

Though its production team adamantly stated that the film is a spinoff and not a remake, “Ocean’s 8” still largely follows the structure of its source material – the 2001 “Ocean’s 11,” itself a remake of the 1960s Rat Pack film of the same name – but with three thieves fewer. Be it because Hollywood wasn’t able to assemble a cast of 11 female celebrities or because it only takes eight women to do a task that otherwise requires 11 men (hint, it’s the latter), Sandra Bullock as Debbie Ocean leads a small team of big-namers who range in fame from YouTube sensation Awkwafina to global sensation Rihanna.

While the movie’s pacing might not always work, these eight women do — each bringing expertise and a general sense of fun to their largely two-dimensional characters. Heist movies, after all, aren’t meant to be character studies. They’re meant to be entertaining, sexy, smart and memorable — perfect one-night stands. While “Ocean’s 8” is entertaining and sexy, it’s more of a bar hookup: gratifying enough, but ultimately forgettable.

The litmus test of a good heist film is whether it can pull one over on its audience while seemingly keeping it informed of the plan as it occurs, step by step, in real time. Does “Ocean’s 8” succeed? Not quite, but it thrives on an exhilarating sense of anticipation that only fizzles in its third act.

As previously stated, it’s a movie about the Met Gala, and the costumes are, fittingly, jaw-dropping. From each woman’s dress at the focal event — namely Rihanna’s off-the-shoulder, red silk gown — to the amalgamation of impressive suits sported by Cate Blanchett and Bullock, the central eight’s outfits steal just as many scenes as the women do jewels. And, as a movie about the Met Gala, it’s also saturated with celebrity cameos ad nauseum. To be fair, most are great — that is, until the Kardashians are suddenly in the background of nearly every gala shot.

Perhaps critiquing its heavy reliance on cameos is unfair. After all, it’s a movie solely driven by star power. Rihanna — not known for her acting, but why would she need to be? — here plays a character with such cool nonchalance about the central plot that she keeps the movie from falling into overt self-praise, constantly dismissing Bullock and Blanchett’s characters in some of the movie’s most genuinely funny moments. Helena Bonham Carter and Mindy Kaling prove an unexpectedly effective comedic duo, their scenes together ranking among the film’s best comic relief.

Thankfully, the all-women draw to the film receives only a moment of exposition, given through a throwaway line. “A him gets noticed, a her gets ignored. For once, we want to be ignored,” Ocean states, and that’s it — a beautifully brief nod, one that speaks to a larger intelligence of its screenplay than may appear at first blush.

All in all, the movie does accomplish its purported feminist agenda — its pace slows only when no women are onscreen. James Corden is in many of these slow scenes, his character John Frazier a confusing and largely unnecessary addition to the third act, which is already befuddled by flashbacks and confusing plot twists. And then when only women are onscreen, especially in the rare moments when all eight are assembled, the group dynamic is wholly endearing — though each shines more brightly when paired off and allowed more time in the spotlight.

Thrust forward by the talent and chemistry of its supporting cast, the film’s pace is augmented by whip-sharp editing and characterized by brilliantly staged shots that appear only momentarily in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it game of cinematography. While “Ocean’s 8” may not be the most memorable film, it’s undeniably fun, giving its good share of laughs and gasps — and that right there is priceless.

“Ocean’s 8” is now playing at UA Berkeley 7. 

Caroline Smith is the arts & entertainment editor. Contact her at [email protected].