- RUNNING GAME: Cate Blanchett (left) and Rihanna star in "Ocean's 8."
One glance at the movie posters for "Ocean's 8" and you'll realize how easily a movie franchise can switch to an all-lady star ensemble, when it doesn't have "Ghostbusters"-level fanbabies attached to it. The future of sequels is female, at least when you're working with heist comedies. Here, George Clooney appears only as a photo on a desk and his character, Danny Ocean, only as a name on a grave. In his place is Sandra Bullock as his just-paroled sister; she has in Cate Blanchett her Brad Pitt, a dashing No. 2 who gets riled when she realizes the One Big Job has a personal angle. And beyond that, the film doesn't make a thing of swapping out a bunch of gents for women. (In hindsight "Ocean's 11" was so 2001.) You'll forget it yourself until you see Cate Blanchett, in disguise as a food truck cook, hard-stare at a customer who has just called her "dude."
Theft isn't gendered, but the job is, somewhat: Debbie Ocean has her eyes on a $150 million diamond necklace, the sort of thing that women have a more credible time wearing than gentlemen. The scene is to be the Met Gala, an actual party that goes down at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art each year, a fundraiser that mostly is an excuse for famous people to play dress-up for Vogue. Robbing a museum that still offers pay-what-you-wish for locals doesn't stir the same underdog espirit de corps that ripping off, say, a Vegas casino does. But moving a huge handful of diamonds sure is more inviting to watch than a slab of cash.
How to get these diamonds out of a vault, into the open at the Met Gala, and past a security system we are constantly reassured is one of the best in the world? Funny you should ask, because it'll take an expert jeweler (Mindy Kaling), a pickpocket (Awkwafina), an ultra-chill hacker (Rihanna), a fence (Sarah Paulson), a designer (Helena Bonham Carter)and an unsuspecting starlet (Anne Hathaway) to insist upon the designer who can insist upon using the jewels ... and the rest sort of writes itself, right? Finding the kinks in the security, maneuvering past cameras and guards, maybe you get to wear some cool costumes, maybe you get to watch Anne Hathaway throwing up profusely. Somewhere in the mix is a weaselly ex of Debbie's (Richard Armitage) who happens to be on the cover of GQ when she gets out of the joint — doubly annoying, since he testified against her in a failed art swindle that got her sent away for five years and change.
This is all fun stuff, far as it goes, and so many of the nouveau-Rat Pack flourishes are here, down to the bongo-and-jazz-flute soundtrack that keeps the film light on its feet. But something feels oddly heavy here, which owes somewhat to the genre itself. It's a strange thing, to watch characters closely script a job and then ... watch that script go more or less precisely to plan. Satisfying, sure. Yet also a little flat, the Coke poured out of the two-liter that's been sitting in the fridge for a few weeks. There's a bit of a play-within-a-play at work, and director/writer Gary Ross ("The Hunger Games") holds just enough beyond the view of the audience for a few reveals at the end, true to the "Ocean's" form. If the characters are running game on one another, the winking recap later always shows the audience that they, too, were missing a con happening under their noses.
It could've been more fun with about 10 percent more "Dog Day Afternoon" thrown in. Debbie Ocean and Blanchett's surnameless Lou are almost too slick as a pair, too contained. A flash of anger here, a big chortle there, could've gone some distance to adding a high sense of play or discovery. The performers doing the most work here are Bonham Carter and Hathaway, both of whom are clearly not in control of what's going to happen next, and seem to be living the moment. The masterminds of this plan, though? They're watching everything unspool just as they laid it out. Nothing can go totally right, we find, when it feels like nothing can go wrong.