Gary Ross’ Ocean’s 8 is not quite a remake, not quite a reboot, and not an especially good movie. The prevailing sentiment is one of irritable obligation in the kind of paradoxical effort that’s both relentlessly self-promotional and woefully insecure. This extension of the Ocean’s Extended Universe™ finds Debbie Ocean (Sandra Bullock) out of prison and ready to enlist a cadre of skilled women in hopes of a obtaining a diamond necklace. Staging the heist during the Met Gala, the centerpiece caper promises all the stylistic extravagance that made Steven Soderbergh’s 2001 film such a delight. Ross, however, lazily operates within the confines of Soderbergh’s shadow, unable and unwilling to provoke anything meaningful out of anyone involved. The result is a barren rethread, a thoroughly bland film committed to dispensing blasé platitudes and charmless lallations. Never has a film starring the likes of Cate Blanchett, Helena Bonham Carter, or Sarah Paulson been this innocuous and dull.
The film’s problems are readily apparent from the onset, as it dubiously casts its characters to mirror the paper-thin features of their 2001 counterpart. Debbie is Danny, Lou (Cate Blanchett) is Rusty, Nine Ball (Rihanna) is Basher, etc. It’s a dispiriting quality that serves to render these women as empty vessels, embodying characteristics that seem more suited for androids than actual human beings. The futile efforts to broaden the depths of these characters, such as when Amita (Mindy Kaling) and Constance (rapper Awkwafina) discuss the operational features and etiquette of Tinder, are just banal and dunderheaded. Exchanges of this nature, the sort of irrelevant, improv-y repartees, attempt but ultimately fail to engineer chemistry.
What’s wrong with Ocean’s 8 is wrong all the way through it and the distinction speaks to a larger quote unquote media problem that suggests that casting roles for women is an isolated matter of changing a male character to female. It’s a simplistic gesture that sacrifices any measure of specificity or intrigue that make both the character and actor worth considering. Compounded by the film’s rote, journeyman-like direction and insipid screenplay (briefly imagine what someone like Amy Seimetz could have done with just the skeleton of this material and with all its resources), and you have another film that will likely spur the same vitriolic conversation that surrounded Paul Feig’s Ghostbusters reboot. The kind of anger that emerges from these conversations is fundamentally useless, but it sure would be convenient, if not downright preferable, to defend one of these films on the basis of its merit and not as a statement social equity.