Back in 2001, director Steven Soderbergh remade the 1960 film Ocean’s Eleven. He drew moviegoers into the colorful world of Danny Ocean, then upped the stakes with two sequels. Eleven years after the final sequel, director Gary Ross (who co-wrote the movie with Olivia Milch) reprises the series with Ocean’s Eight.
Much of the hype of Ocean’s Eight comes from what Soderbergh built with his Ocean trilogy. It follows Danny Ocean and his merry band of (male) thieves as they outwit wealthy powerful men who sought to keep their riches and egos secure. The movies are distinguished by their vacation-worthy settings, featuring high-end hotels, luxurious casinos, and elegant European cities. Stars like George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon and others made up the ensemble cast, and they brought their characters to life with eminent charisma and humor.
For Ocean’s Eight, Ross replaces the all-male crew with a cast of what should be equally charming women. Viewers follow Danny’s sister, Debbie Ocean (Sandra Bullock). In the fashion of a classic con artist, she demonstrates her wily side in the first few moments of the movie. Granted parole, she emerges from a prison in New Jersey and immediately ends up at the Bergdorf Goodman in Manhattan. She cleverly scams them into letting her walk out with all the perfume and cosmetics that she can hold. Then she ends up in the famously posh Plaza Hotel, landing herself a free stay using a bit of clever social engineering.
If only the rest of the movie were as interesting. The movie departs from the typical settings of Soderbergh’s Ocean movies and instead transports the story to New York City where viewers are surrounded by anonymous skyscrapers. Back on the streets, Debbie recruits the crew she needs in order to pull off the heist. And together, the ladies forge forward to pull off what’s supposed to be the ultimate jewel heist—stealing a legendary $150 million diamond necklace that hasn’t been taken out of the Cartier vault in ages.
The only problem is that the heist isn’t all that ingenious. Half of the fun of watching heist movies is seeing some rather clever criminals outsmart what’s supposed to be a world-class security system. The hurdles that Debbie and her crew have to clear are too easily overcome, and the wrenches that are thrown into the plan are solved just as conveniently. It hardly feels like the ultimate heist that Debbie calls it.
The other half of the fun lies in the cast. In the Soderbergh trilogy, George Clooney and the rest of the actors exhibit a bond. It feels like they’re really a tight crew who have been through thick and thin. They have stories to tell about each other, and there’s some real chemistry between them. Rusty Ryan’s jaunty posturing and Linus Caldwell’s bashful earnestness play well off each other. The actors had plenty to work with in the script. But here, in the script that Ross and Milch wrote, there really isn’t much of anything at all. The stakes are meager, there’s no urgency, and the characters are utterly flat and bland. Not to mention that there are just a mere handful of moments that elicit a chuckle. The only memorable characters are Constance (Awkwafina) and Rose Weil (Helena Bonham-Carter), both of whom give quirky performances that help their characters stand out.
Reboots are rarely good, and this movie follows suit. The plot lacks the creativity, ingenuity, and tension that makes a heist movie a must-watch, and the cast aren’t given many opportunities to shine. Moviegoers will have to wait for better movies to make a splash this summer.