An all-female instalment in the Ocean's series, set at the Met Gala and starring a killer cast of famous faces? On paper, it sounds like a dream come true. Eleven years after George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon and more last fleeced a casino in Ocean's 13, and nearly six decades since Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and the '60s-era Rat Pack did the same in the first-ever Ocean's 11, Ocean's 8 thrusts women into the blockbuster heist franchise. The elaborate setups, easy banter and split-screen imagery all make the jump to this gender-swapped chapter, as does the buddy-movie vibe, which makes it feel like you're hanging out with a group of glam pals as they happen to stage an intricate robbery. But there are a few things missing in this stylish but slight attempt to extend the Ocean's brand – things like actual drama, a decent villain, and a plot that's anything other than a routine walk through familiar territory.
The parallels start from the film's opening frames, with the incarcerated Debbie Ocean (Sandra Bullock) trying to talk her way into early parole, just as her brother did back in 2001. And, like her sibling, she's not being completely honest when she promises she'll be a model citizen upon release. Spending five years, eight months and 12 days in the slammer has given her more than enough time to plan a new job, and it takes barely a few hours to convince her righthand woman Lou (Cate Blanchett) to join in. Amassing a crew that includes fence Tammy (Sarah Paulson), fashion designer Rose (Helena Bonham Carter), jeweller Amita (Mindy Kaling), fleet-fingered thief Constance (Awkwafina) and IT whiz Nine Ball (Rihanna), they're soon ready to cause a splash on the first Monday in May. Their plan: steal a $150 million diamond necklace from the neck of starlet Daphne Kluger (Anne Hathaway) during the star-studded party.
Actually, the gang is ready to steal big but stay out of sight. As Debbie tells the crew during the obligatory motivational pre-heist speech, "a him gets noticed, a her gets ignored — and for once, we want to be ignored". It's a delightfully loaded piece of dialogue that speaks to our post-#MeToo world, but it's the movie's only step towards making any kind of statement. Instead, Ocean's 8 represents Hollywood's current gender-switching trend at its most basic, doing little more than bringing in female stars to follow the same old path. If the powers that be were worried about a Ghostbusters-style backlash, they've countered it in the most mundane fashion. If they just wanted to capitalise upon the trend as simply and literally as possible, well, that's exactly what they've achieved.
Indeed, writer-director Gary Ross (The Hunger Games) and his co-scribe Olivia Milch are happy to follow the beats established by their predecessors, and to mimic the look and feel that served Ocean's 11, 12 and 13 filmmaker Steven Soderbergh so well. Still, you can only pass off a cubic zirconia as a diamond for so long — and in the words of the under-utilised Rihanna, this movie doesn't shine bright like the latter. Bullock, Blanchett and company try their best to liven up the by-the-numbers caper, and do plenty with their evident chemistry. In fact, you'll wish the film spent more time watching the group chat. But that's a feat of casting, rather than any stroke of writing or directing genius. Throw these charismatic ladies into any scenario, and they'd always demand attention.
To be fair, there's ample fun to be found in Bullock's rapport with both Blanchett and Paulson, and in Bonham Carter's scene-stealing awkwardness. Having Hathaway skewer her public reputation is among the movie's best touches too, although it's nowhere near as savvy as her role in last year's Colossal. And yet, the sparkling cast can't lift a film that merely watches their characters put a plan into action with minimal roadblocks or tension. A subplot involving Debbie's duplicitous ex (Richard Armitage) is instantly forgettable, as is James Cordon's involvement as an insurance detective — and it never feels like these gals are facing any real threats, stakes or problems. Working through the nuts and bolts of any heist might be one of the thrills of the genre, but without a sense of drama as well, Ocean's 8 is a barely passable knockoff.