WASHINGTON — In 2001, a group of con men robbed a casino in the cool caper “Ocean’s 11.”
Now, an all-female cast plots “A Heist of Their Own” in the star-studded spinoff “Ocean’s 8.”
Before you say, “How dare they remake Ocean’s 11,” remember that the Steven Soderbergh flick was itself a remake of the 1960 original. So, if George Clooney, Brad Pitt and Matt Damon can reboot Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr., then surely the women can, too.
This time, we follow Danny Ocean’s sister Debbie (Sandra Bullock), who manipulates her way out of prison and onto parole. She hits up her old pal Lou (Cate Blanchett) with a plot to steal a $150 million diamond necklace called the Cartier Toussaint, recruiting a Hollywood diva (Anne Hathaway) to wear the jewels and a team of cohorts (Sarah Paulson, Helena Bonham Carter, Mindy Kaling, Awkwafina and Rihanna) to swipe them at New York’s swanky Met Gala.
If there’s a healthy skepticism heading into the second reboot of the franchise, those concerns are washed away by the charming cast, led by a trio of Oscar winners.
Sandra Bullock shines right off the bat with a hotel check-in sequence that sets the tone for the rest of the movie; Cate Blanchett is stunning in high heels, motorcycle helmet and devil-may-care swagger; and Anne Hathaway steals the show as a high-maintenance Hollywood movie star.
Surrounding them is a “who’s who” of celebrity talents. Sarah Paulson is unassuming as the suburban mom with a penchant for stolen merchandise; Helena Bonham Carter is ditsy as a past-her-prime fashion designer; Mindy Kaling is resourceful as a sarcastic jeweler; Awkwafina is brash as a sleight-of-hand street magician; and Rihanna is aloof as a computer hacker.
Individually, each deserves more to do — there’s only so much screentime to go around — but as a whole, the collection is dynamite. The dialogue banter between the ladies is the driving force behind the movie, masking any plot holes or far-fetched twists. Sure, the script recycles from past installments with an unnecessary epilogue (despite a hilarious James Corden), but it does what it sets out to do: craft an entertaining romp that keeps us guessing.
Writer/director Gary Ross (“The Hunger Games”) keeps the pace moving thanks to editor Juliette Welfling, who structured Jacques Audiard’s French gems “A Prophet” (2009) and “Rust & Bone” (2012), while cinematographer Eigil Bryld shoots in colorful tones that resemble his work on “In Bruges” (2008) more than the shadows he brought to “House of Cards” (2013).
For the most part, Ross is an invisible hand with his shot selection, taking a workmanlike approach that surrenders the glory to the star-studded cast and glamorous production design. His style is less flashy than Soderbergh’s split screens, which Ross’ revives briefly in the final act as an homage. That’s fine by me, as I’ve always found the trick a bit gimmicky, unless done for a specific reason like the “expectations vs. reality” of “500 Days of Summer” (2009).
The split-screen isn’t the only callback down the homestretch. Expect a cameo or two from past characters, but don’t get your hopes up — none of the A-listers show up. That said, there are a few tasteful touches that will please fans of the 2001-2007 trilogy, particularly the final image that toasts our best franchise memories and sends us out of the theater on a high.
In the end, “Ocean’s 8” is not quite as good as the Soderbergh flick, which vastly improved upon the 1960 original by Lewis Milestone. However, “Ocean’s 8” is every bit as good — if not better — than the 1960 flick, which doesn’t hold up nearly as well on repeat viewings as other classic flicks by Frank Sinatra (“The Manchurian Candidate”) or Dean Martin (“Rio Bravo”).
What’s more, it’s the right movie at the right time in the context of #MeToo. You could argue Paul Feig’s all-female “Ghostbusters” (2016) arrived 15 months too early before the Harvey Weinstein scandal opened eyes. We feel that social bite as the gang explains why they’re recruiting a woman for the job rather than a man: “A him gets noticed. A her gets ignored.” In daily life, that’s a tragedy, but when you’re masterminding a heist, it’s opportunistic gold.