Sunday, January 13, 2019

Catching Up Watch: Ocean's 8 (2018)

Watched:  01/11/2019
Format:  Airplane
Viewing:  first
Decade: 2010

I dunno, guys.

I can't tell if the "Ocean's 8" bit is a riff on "women work at 75% of the cost of men" or what.  It sure seems, otherwise, like advertising the lower budget and production of the movie right there in the title.

Soderbergh's Ocean's 11 took a kind of gin-soaked, fun, all-star romp from the Rat Pack era and made it into the snappiest, sharpest, most-fun heist movie of the past three or four decades.  Sequels delivered diminishing returns as they raised the stakes and got crazier.  But the stories worked with unexpected clockwork precision.

Ocean's 8 (2018) features an all-star female cast, my appreciation of which clocks in at "she's pretty good, I like her" to "Cate Blanchett".  But from the opening, the film feels almost like a parody of the prior Ocean's films (which, mercifully, they stopped doing no matter how much fun they had making them).  It's difficult to put your finger on, but with this installment - something just doesn't gel, and the result is a movie that gives off the vibe of an easily detectable imitation - more cubic zirconium than diamond. Look, we've got Helena Bonham Carter, Mindy Kaling, Awkwafina, Rihanna, Sarah Paulson, Anne Hathaway, etc... et al.   And somehow this movie feels like a bunch of people putting on a skit where they play characters *like* they're in an Ocean's movie, not that it's actually one of these movies.  It's a really, really strange vibe, which I place entirely on the writer/director.

I mean, it's *not* Soderbergh.  It's Gary Ross as writer/ director - a guy who gave us some perfectly fine movies in the past (Pleasantville, Seabiscuit), but nothing with teeth to it.

Sandra Bullock was always fully capable of playing alongside George Clooney (see Gravity.  No, really, see it.), and she has a unique ability to sell sincerity to the other characters on the screen while also somehow winking to the audience.  (She must be a nightmare at parties making fun of people without them knowing.) They certainly use that here, but the story she's given is a soggy retread of Clooney's story from Ocean's 11, which, yeah, was a couple of decades ago but runs incessantly on TBS.

Cate Blanchett plays the Brad Pitt buddy character and is clearly having fun, but it's a weirdly muted part for someone with that much juice.  It's certainly not bad, and she's cooler than cool, but when you know what she's capable of and that she mostly just kinda stands there...

What's odd is that the prior Ocean's movies, including the Dino and Sinatra version, were explicit in who was doing what - it's part of the heist genre.  Everyone is there for a reason with clearly defined tasks (and often cuts that are related to the going rate for the task).  There's also a "we know each other, so we're not going to let this fall apart" aspect that keeps the trust in line, and that's not really established here.  I mean, how many heist stories have that second act twist where someone turns in the middle of the heist and makes off with the goods at the first opportunity?

This movie kind of starts off saying who is doing what, but then just starts heaping things on to all of the characters and - in a three week span - magically places all of the characters into fake key professional roles at "the biggest social event of the year".  Again, it just doesn't feel like anyone involved is aware of stuff like event planning or how people manage this stuff and it's just a weird and unnecessary plot hole.

Two major issues with the film hinge on the buyability of the con-man/ heister/ scammer BS that all of the Oceans movies throw our way.  In this case, it's kind of weird watching the post-prison scene of Bullock securing goods and a hotel room and thinking "I don't think anyone involved here knows how a hotel room is booked or what they teach service people about obvious scams."  The Soderbergh movies relied of BS gimmicks like knocking out the power in Vegas or Tess looking like actress Julia Roberts, but they didn't treat computers like it was the mid-90's or make up Star Trek technologies to get around plotting problems and didn't linger too long on the tech to let you think on it.*

There's also a third act turn that makes no sense.  None.  It feels like one of the actors wrote it in themselves and to get the actor, they just let her do it, but it lacks motivation or any logical sense.  What's meant to be a cutesy switcheroo just feels...  I dunno.

The movie does bring back a couple of characters from the prior installments for cameos, one of which makes the final score's math not make sense and shakes the whole "girls doing it for themselves" vibe.   SPOILERS: the movie makes the bizarre decision to kick it off with the off-screen death of Danny Ocean (which none of us believe).  It's just an absolutely strange thing as he also goes utterly unmourned.  There were forty ways to keep Danny Ocean off-screen, but death?   It basically means that I expected Clooney to show up at some key moment, which he absolutely does not.

Look, the movie is okay.  It's fun-ish.  You can certainly see at least parts of the cast having fun ( I am not sure Rihanna was having fun).  It's just disappointing knowing the level at which this movie could have worked, but instead winds up as a less-than version of a known film or three.

If Sandra Bullock wanted to be in a heist comedy movie, she would have done well to not make herself part of an abandoned franchise.  I'm aware that's a tough sell in and of itself, and the "Ocean's" name likely sold a lot of tickets, but you're always going to suffer by comparison and repetition of what feels like a watered down formula. 

*short the regrettable Ellen Barkin seduction scene in O13.

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