OCEAN'S EIGHT

Directing: B
Acting: B+

Writing: B-
Cinematography: B
Editing: B-

Ocean's Eight is fun. There's no question about that. ...But. I have a lot of "buts" about this.

This movie suffers from two key things. The first is what I'm going to call "Ghostbusters Reboot Syndrome." Why is it so hard for studios just to make an original movie, that is great, starring a bunch of female movie stars? When was there a rule written that an ensemble cast of awesome women has to be riding on the coattails of an existing franchise?

And that leads right into the second thing, which is that Ocean's Eight also suffers from, basically, sequel-itis. It may not feature any of the major players of the George Clooney / Brad Pitt Ocean's Eleven franchise, and the "Eight" might make it sound like more of a prequel, but this movie is, technically, just the fourth in the Ocean's Eleven series.

Sandra Bullock is the ringleader this time around, and she has a pretty direct connection to Danny Ocean: she plays his sister. Debbie Ocean. Also a felon. She's just getting out of five years in jail, and she's ready to pull off another job immediately, one she has spent all of those five years meticulously planning. It's been eleven years since the release of Ocean's Thirteen, and somewhere along the way, it seems, Danny has died. Ocean's Eight doesn't give us what the story is there; only Debbie visiting his grave early on and saying to it, "You better really be in there." Cue George Clooney's "surprise" role in Ocean's Nine or Ocean's Ten, I presume.

There is a shot of Danny in a framed picture, so Clooney gets a check of some sort for this movie. Bullock has much of Clooney's confidence and swagger, but a fraction of his charm. Still it's relatively easy to imagine them as siblings.

Debbie has many criminal friends to convince of getting in on this new heist of hers. Key among them is Cate Blanchett as Lou, with whom Bullock has hints of homoerotic chemistry that I rather wish this movie had explored even a little more, had some fun with it instead of just hints. Five more key players include Mindy Kaling as the jewelry store owner; Sarah Paulson as a subtly skilled kleptomaniac; Rihanna as a hacker; Awkwafina as an expert pickpocket; and Helena Bonham Carter as a fashion designer.

Rounding out the so-called "Eight" is Anne Hathaway, giving one of the best performances in the film as the deceptively vapid starlet who is hosting the Met Gala, and to be wearing the necklace made of $150 million worth of diamonds Debbie and her crew are plotting to steal. Hathaway also gets saddled with a supposed plot twist which, honestly, I saw coming a million miles away -- and I don't even actively look for predictable twists.

To say that Ocean's Eight stretches the bounds of plausibility would be quite the understatement. This movie makes the previous Ocean's movies look like docudrama. Part of the issue there is, again, being saddled with the trappings of a franchise now nearly two decades old. This could have been a movie that had nothing to do with Danny Ocean, just a clever original heist movie that had a better script writer and starred the very same eight talented women. Why deny us that just so this movie could be unfavorably compared to the 2001 Ocean's Eleven?

Because this movie has none of the crackling dialogue that the original in this series had. Neither Twelve nor Thirteen did either, so ultimately this is just diminishing returns, with the hope of riding on the novelty of eight female leads.

But! Again with the buts. The setup is a little plodding, but once the heist gets underway, Ocean's Eight picks up considerably, and gets to be much more fun, just watching all these characters get away with this preposterously brazen crime. I did kind of like the meta irony of Rhianna playing a hacker, when she's so well known for stealing the show at many real-life Met Galas. Also: the difference all these particular actors make cannot be overstated. On paper, this story is mediocre. Onscreen, these women elevate the material -- both because of their ample collective talents and because they are clearly having a good time.

So it comes back to this: Ocean's Eight is fun. It could have been more than just that, though; I wanted more and audiences deserved more, with this much talent at work. It still deserves to succeed, if for no other reason than to prove a movie like this can, and maybe at some point we'll get another movie like this that's great as opposed to fine.

  Debbie Ocean's crew strikes a pose.

Debbie Ocean's crew strikes a pose.

Overall: B