A slapdash heist caper with an enjoyable breeziness but a frustrating lack of suspense.
Remakes that are better than the original are rare treats. The Fly, Scarface, The Thing; all terrific examples. But one that is often cited as being one of the very best is Steven Soderbergh’s oozingly cool and glossy Ocean’s Eleven. Championing an all-star cast at the top of their game, pushing George Clooney into the spotlight, and featuring a fresh, poppy filmmaking style unlike anything we’d really seen before, the heist may have been spectacular but everything else around it was too. 17 years later, bob’s your uncle, we have an all-female follow up. Not without context or reason either – at the forefront is Sandra Bullock as Debbie Ocean, the sister to Clooney’s Danny, who also happens to have an affinity for polishing her sticky fingers on a grand scale. Her right-hand women also happen to be made up of some of the finest female talent working today, but for such an abundance of greatness on offer, director Gary Ross unwisely opts for an imitation of the great Soderbergh’s pizazz, rather than creating anything other than what seems to be a below-average reboot.
After being released from prison, Debbie Ocean gathers the crème de la crème of pickpockets, hackers and thieves to carry off the most improbable heist of the century at New York City’s Met Gala.
Fresh from behind bars, Debbie joins forces with night-club owner and vodka-conwoman Lou (Cate Blanchett) to assemble the perfect team. The heist in the works is to steal a beautiful, treasured bit of jewellery (it costs a cool $150m) from the neck of hugely-popular model celebrity, Daphne Kluger (Anne Hathaway). Naturally, stealing such a protected accessory is no small feat. As such, a crack team of experts is gathered. The lead examiner of carrots is Amita (Mindy Kaling). Our inside ladies are flaky, Irish fashion designer Rose Weil (Helena Bonham Carter) and level-headed, lorry-hijacker Tammy (Sarah Paulson). Putting her nimble sleight-of-hand to expert use is Constance (Awkwafina), and on the technical side of things is computer-brainiac Nine Ball (Rihanna).
The cast are all game performers, but Ross’s screenplay (alongside Olivia Milch) doesn’t afford them all equal courtesy. Bullock’s reliable charm is left unharmed in the process, carrying off the traits of an obsessive criminal while retaining the inherent likability that has followed her throughout her career. There’s a really terrific bathroom joke which taps into the Oscar-winner’s German heritage. Rihanna, whose past filmography would be far from a beacon of hope for this entry (Battleship, Valerian), brings a great presence to the table, becoming a key member of the crew without being an overwhelming addition. Paulson too is a naturally edgy performer, but Paling and Awkwafina are unfortunately sidelined, and when they do get their chance, they’re thrown a bone in the form of a shoe-horned Tinder bit that only serves to add to the film’s rather relentless product placement (they literally spend minutes in a Subway creating a sandwich). Perhaps this was to fund a film no-one was willing to bank on, but even with the extra cash, there’s a lot of issues under the surface of this film that will get under the skin of fans of the franchise.
One of the leads who actually feels like a fantastically fresh part of the roster is Hathaway’s egotistic Kluger. Showing off the Les Mis star’s comedy chops, her natural timing in the film’s funnier scenes give them a much needed boost. She drops into her role like a combination of her character in The Intern and Meryl Streep’s fashionista satan in The Devil Wears Prada – effortlessly good.
The process of gathering these A-list performers and overcoming the typical hurdles that precede a larger-than-life heist actually fits in a lot of fun. By the time the big event comes along, there is a level of anticipation to see how it all goes down. But any good heist needs some jeopardy to remain interesting, because who really wants to see it all go to plan? But Ross decides to play it far too truthfully to Debbie’s claim that she’s ‘gone through it a thousand times in her head and she never gets caught’. The slight hiccups don’t bring about any real sense of peril – even when James Corden’s insurance investigator enters (which potentially could have been a supremely suspenseful part of the story), it’s over in a flash and the apparent stakes vanish. There’s a certain amateurish feel to the finished product here, almost like the whole idea spawned from chewing the fat over a drink one evening. Ross could have invested far, far more time into crafting a much denser story, with more deception, more excitement, and generally more fun. The end result could have been something really spectacular, but here we are.
Beat-for-beat, it plays out very similarly to Eleven. Not that this should be recognised as a terrible thing (learn from the best, right?). But unlike Eleven, which fronted thrills and doubt amongst the delectable coolness of its stars and director’s style, Eight is a much more breezy affair that feels like a sort of half-remake, half-follow up. Forgettable is a fair assessment, but unenjoyable wouldn’t be. That being said, if it weren’t for the admirably enthusiastic (and incredibly well-dressed) cast, this would be nothing but an almost cowardly, souped-up wannabe with an incessant reliance on Powerpoint transitions and zoom, after zoom, after zoom (seriously, there’s a lot of bloody zooms).