George Clooney’s supposedly dead Danny Ocean hangs like a specter over “Ocean’s 8,” a reasonably enjoyable sequel of sorts to the Steven Soderbergh-directed trilogy of “Ocean’s” films that starred Clooney and also featured Julia Roberts, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon and other notables in the 2000s.
Danny is brought up in the movie’s opening minutes — at the parole hearing for his sister, Debbie (Sandra Bullock).
“My brother, may he rest in peace, was a criminal,” says Debbie, who then insists she is not, going so far as to become choked up as she talks of her desire to live “the simple life.”
She’s had five years behind bars to perfect this act.
After her release, she visits a mausoleum that allegedly is home to Danny’s remains.
“You’d better be in there,” she says.
While the question of whether Danny really is dead — and the related one of whether Clooney will pop-up in this spinoff — is fun, “Ocean’s 8” is otherwise powered by women. The entertaining heist film features a number of big-name actresses — along with Bullock, key players include Cate Blanchett, Anne Hathaway, Mindy Kaling, Rihanna and Sarah Paulson — playing capable, if criminally inclined, females.
Along with perfecting her parole speech, Debbie has spent her time in prison dreaming up a major heist — the snatching of a historically significant $150 million diamond necklace possessed by Cartier and kept 50 feet underground.
She goes about assembling a team, starting with her old partner, Lou (Blanchett), who’s busy overseeing her employees water down the vodka in her bar. Lou takes little convincing.
To pull this caper off, Debbie and Lou need a gem expert (Kaling’s Amita), a hacker (Rihanna’s Nine Ball), a fence (Paulson’s Tammy) and a pickpocket (Awkwafina’s Constance). And that’s just to start.
They also require a reason for Cartier to part with the necklace, even temporarily. The solution involves the recruitment of a down-and-out fashion designer, Rose Weil (Helena Bonham Carter), to create a look for world-famous actress Daphne Kluger (Hathaway) as she attends the event of the year, The Met Gala.
Along with a gown with an insanely long train, that look includes said necklace, the Toussaint. Once Daphne is wearing the 6-pound collection of diamonds at the shindig, the gang needs to switch it with a fake — out of view of the two highly paid security guards Cartier has hired to stand feet from the actress at all times — break it down and smuggle out the gems.
What could go wrong?Truthfully, their plan seems needlessly complicated, at least once the prize has been removed from Daphne. It’s one of a few minor issues with “Ocean’s 8,” directed by Gary Ross (“Seabiscuit,” “Free State of Jones”) and co-written by him and Olivia Milch (writer-director of 2018 film “Dude,” which featured Awkwafina), with Ross also getting credit for the story.
Ross’ tale, which also works in an ex-boyfriend of Debbie’s played by Richard Armitage and an insurance company investigator portrayed by late-night TV host James Corden, doesn’t quite build to a crescendo. Instead, it is content to remain largely easy-breezy. You’re never left to fear much for Debbie and the gals, and a bit more drama would have been nice.
Speaking of Debbie, Bullock (“Gravity,” “The Blind Side”) is enjoyable as the film’s central figure, but you wish Ross and Milch would have written her a little quirkier to make use of her comedic abilities. The talents of Blanchett (“Blue Jasmine,” “Carol”) also feel under-utilized in “Ocean’s 8.”
Fortunately, though, Kaling (“The Mindy Project,” “A Wrinkle in Time”), Bonham Carter (“The King’s Speech,” “Alice Through the Looking Glass”) and Hathaway (“Les Miserables,” “Interstellar) all get moments to shine, with Hathaway saving her best work for the film’s final stretch.
While Awkwafina, pop star Rihanna (“Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets”) and the very talented Paulson (“The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story,” “The Post”) get less to do, they make their marks on “Ocean’s 8,” as well.
Armitage (“The Hobbit” trilogy) is largely there to be dashing and vaguely unlikable as Daphne’s date, Claude Becker, a job at which he succeeds. Corden (“Into the Woods”), on the other hand, gets a few nice laughs late in the affair as his John Frazier, who has a history with the Oceans, pokes around in Debbie’s business.
Again, though, “Ocean’s 8” is largely about the ladies. And, if nothing else, Ross and Milch have provided better material for their stars than did the writers of the female-centric “Ghostbusters” reboot in 2016, and that’s laudable.
While the film isn’t interested in making any grand statements about female inequality in society, Ross and Milch do have Debbie offer up a nice little nugget when Lou suggests perhaps they get a man to fill one role on their team.
“A him gets noticed; a her gets ignored,” Debbie says. “And for once we want to be ignored.”
Well, even as you find yourself wondering whether, by George, you’ll get a glimpse of Mr. Clooney, there is no ignoring the women of “Ocean’s 8.”
In theaters: June 8.
Rated: PG-13 for language, drug use, and some suggestive content.
Runtime: 1 hour, 50 minutes.Stars (of four): 2.5.