REEL TO REAL : OCEAN’S 8 (REVIEW BY YONG SHU HOONG)

It has been 11 years after director Steven Soderbergh wrapped up his trilogy of heist films that began with Ocean’s 11 (2001) and ended with Ocean’s 13 (2007).

Ocean’s 8 is neither a prequel nor a sequel but rather a spin-off with an all-women ensemble cast. This film arrives in timely fashion and, I think, it’ll probably be a hit like its predecessors – in this #MeToo era, it’s certainly gratifying to see an entourage of very gutsy women pulling off a successful heist and making fools of a few men along the way.

Sandra Bullock plays Debbie, the estranged sister of Danny Ocean (George Clooney’s role from the earlier films, and who’s now apparently deceased). After getting out of imprisonment, she immediately starts putting in motion a planned heist that she has spent her jail time (five years, eight months, 12 days, to be precise) conceptualising.

Lou (Cate Blanchett), who runs an illegal setup producing fake booze, is the first friend that Debbie hooks up with. After convincing Lou to think big and hop onboard the heist of the century, Debbie then goes about recruiting other partners-in-crime – Tammy (Sarah Paulson), a suburban mom and former accomplice; Amita (Mindy Kaling), a jewellery expert; Constance (Awkwafina), a pickpocket extraordinaire; and Nine Ball (Rihanna), a hacking guru.

Fashion designer Rose Weil (Helena Bonham Carter) plays a crucial part here, as she is tasked to design the gown for a bimbotic superstar actress Daphne Kluger (Anne Hathaway) to wear at the upcoming Met Gala at New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. Debbie’s target is a diamond necklace valued at US$150 million, which Rose manages to convince Cartier to loan out for the event to grace Daphne’s elegant neck.

As usual, it’s a delight to watch how all the intricate jigsaw pieces slide into place, as the smooth criminals scam their way towards their goal. To complicate matter, there’s even a potential bonus: Debbie is trying to get back at her ex-lover, a suave gallery owner named Claude (Richard Armitage), who made her the scapegoat for a scam gone awry and was directly responsible for landing her in jail.

There are lots of humour, sleek action and good camaraderie among the actresses – which make for entertaining viewing. But this is not where you’ve come to find robust character development that would adequately test the acting skills of Oscar winners like Bullock, Blanchett and Hathaway, as well as Golden Globe winner Paulson. Except for Hathaway, who steals quite a bit of limelight from the rest in her comedic role, most members of this fine cast seem to be going through the motion – though, at least, they look like they’re having fun in the process.

Directed by Gary Ross (The Hunger Games), with Soderbergh taking a backseat this time as producer, the film suffers from a largely predictable plot. I wish there are more obstacles in the way and clever twists towards the end to mess up our expectations. Even when an insurance investigator played by James Corden comes sniffing for clues, he doesn’t pose too much of a challenge to distract Debbie and her gang from celebrating their triumph.

Still it looks like there will be room in the future for Ocean’s 9 and Ocean’s 10. I just hope it’s not too much of plain sailing from here on.

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