‘Ocean’s 8’ an en­joy­able, low-fizz heist movie

Chattanooga Times Free Press - ChattanoogaNow - - MOVIES - BY JUSTIN CHANG TRI­BUNE NEWS SER­VICE

The big heist in “Ocean’s 8” — the theft of a $150 mil­lion di­a­mond neck­lace, dar­ingly sched­uled to take place at the Met Gala — is pred­i­cated on the care­ful ma­nip­u­la­tion of a “blind spot” out­side a women’s re­stroom.

Amid height­ened se­cu­rity at the Metropoli­tan Mu­seum of Art, a merry girl gang of crooks, led by a well­matched San­dra Bul­lock and Cate Blanchett, must block off a 9-foot-square space where a woman can squeeze in and out of the lava­tory un­de­tected by sur­veil­lance cam­eras.

If you’ll par­don the tor­tured metaphor, Hol­ly­wood has long nur­tured some rather large blind spots of its own, es­pe­cially where the rep­re­sen­ta­tion of women on-screen is con­cerned. In its en­joy­ably slip­pery, light­weight fash­ion, “Ocean’s 8” — a canny mul­ti­mil­lion-dol­lar an­swer to the ques­tion “How about ‘Ocean’s Eleven,’ but with women?” — has ev­ery in­ten­tion of func­tion­ing as a cor­rec­tive. With deft cal­cu­la­tion, sharp tim­ing and the faintest of eye-rolls, this in­sou­ciant charmer slips into its own pri­vate cor­ner where the rules of that re­stroom ap­ply: No boys al­lowed.

That goes for the movie’s prin­ci­pal cast, of course, not for its po­ten­tial au­di­ence. It should go with­out say­ing that a splashy Hol­ly­wood ca­per pic­ture fea- tur­ing one or two (or eight) fe­male leads should have as much ap­peal for men as for women. But then, given the in­dus­try’s in­fu­ri­at­ing habit of in­sult­ing and com­part­men­tal­iz­ing the pub­lic’s taste, the ob­vi­ous some­times bears re­peat­ing.

The movie it­self, ca­pa­bly if anony­mously di­rected by Gary Ross (“The Hunger Games,” “Se­abis­cuit”) from a well-car­pen­tered script he wrote with Olivia Milch, wears its gen­der pol­i­tics with mat­ter- of- fact ease. Like 2016’s distaff re­boot of “Ghost­busters,” only with bet­ter re­sults and far less ac­com­pa­ny­ing fan­boy out­rage, “Ocean’s 8” is very much a movie about women at work and hav­ing a grand time do­ing it.

The film’s plea­sures may be sec­ond­hand, even zir­co­nium-grade — it is, ef­fec­tively, a re­hash of a re­make — but the sight of Ri­hanna hack­ing into a se­cu­rity com­pany’s main­frame or Bul­lock improvising in per­fect Ger­man of­fers no small com­pen­sa­tion.

The first scene drops us with­out fan­fare into a prison cell where Deb­bie Ocean (Bul­lock), a wily thief at the end of a five-year prison sen­tence, as­sures a pa­role of­fi­cer that she’s look­ing for­ward to “the sim­ple life.” Her lat­est scheme has al­ready be­gun. (Maybe the pre­vi­ous one never ended.) The se­quence that fol­lows, in which Deb­bie smoothly cons her way into a swanky Man­hat­tan ho­tel room, is a de­lec­ta­ble cine­matic amuse­bouche, a tour de force of low-stakes du­plic­ity.

Du­plic­ity runs in the fam­ily. Deb­bie is t he es­tranged younger sis­ter of Danny Ocean, the suave op­er­a­tor played by Ge­orge Clooney in Steven Soder­bergh’s “Ocean’s” tril­ogy, who re­mains off- screen here apart from a brief glimpse in a fam­ily photo. A brief Clooney-Bul­lock re­union might have made for some in­ter­est­ing fire­works (as well as a fas­ci­nat­ing par­al­lel-uni­verse se­quel to “Grav­ity”), but the mes­sage is clear: She doesn’t need him. Nei­ther does the movie.

In­stead, Deb­bie re­news her ties with night­club owner Lou, who used to be her con­fi­dante and part­ner, in pos­si­bly more than one sense. (I’m spec­u­lat­ing, based on the ef­fort­less crackle and bit­ter­sweet un­der­tow of Bul­lock and Blanchett’s chem­istry.) If Deb­bie is the master­mind — she plot­ted out the en­tire Met Gala job be­hind bars — then Lou is her des­ig­nated task rab­bit, the one who will iron out the wrin­kles in her scheme and help as­sem­ble the crack team they need to pull it off.

They choose their col­lab­o­ra­tors well, and so do the film­mak­ers, who have a knack for se­lect­ing ac­tors both ac­cord­ing to and against type. For sheer in­can­des­cence, Ri­hanna is the en­sem­ble’s big­gest get, though the movie slyly dims her star wattage by cast­ing her as Nine Ball, a tech whiz in an Army jacket. It’s nice to see He­lena Bon­ham Carter, too of­ten en­listed to play witches or Bri­tish monar­chs (or both), tap­ping into a very hu­man sense of des­per­a­tion as Rose Weil, a high-end fash­ion de­signer whose rep­u­ta­tion has seen bet­ter days.

Sarah Paul­son, al­ways good at pro­ject­ing steely ef­fi­ciency, ar­rives late in the game as Tammy, a sub­ur­ban house­wife who turns out to be a mas­ter of cor­po­rate skul­dug­gery. The ris­ing rap­per-co­me­dian Awk­wa­fina puts an en­gag­ingly streets­mart spin on the part of a wily pick­pocket named Con­stance, while Mindy Kaling demon­strates a sim­i­larly light touch as jeweler ex­traor­di­naire Amita, who is tasked with han­dling the cov­eted goods.

The neck­lace, held in an un­der­ground Cartier vault, will only be ex­ca­vated for a truly spe­cial rea­son — like, say, the Met Gala, where it will grace the neck of a world- fa­mous celebrity named Daphne Kluger. Given the ac­tress play­ing Daphne, you al­most won­der why they didn’t just name her Anne Hath­away and be done with it.

De­liv­er­ing a lov­ably mon­strous send-up of Hol­ly­wood priv­i­lege, Hath­away is an im­pu­dent de­light; her per­for­mance sug­gests noth­ing so much as a wry re­join­der to her fash­ion-il­lit­er­ate hero­ine from “The Devil Wears Prada” — an as­so­ci­a­tion cheek­ily un­der­scored by a cameo from long­time Vogue ed­i­tor-in-chief Anna Win­tour.

Some might chafe at the de­ci­sion to set the first all-fe­male “Ocean’s” movie at one of the world’s most ridicu­lously lav­ish fash­ion show­cases, as if an ex­cess of glam­our some­how negated its fem­i­nist cre­den­tials. Let them chafe. Jewel heists and cos­tume galas ad­mit­tedly weren’t the only way to go; I look for­ward to an “Ocean’s 9” in which our heroines spend two hours in­fil­trat­ing a neu­ro­sci­en­tists’ con­ven­tion, or mas­querad­ing as septic-tank clean­ers in Fresno.

WARNER BROS. PIC­TURES

From left, San­dra Bul­lock as Deb­bie Ocean, Cate Blanchett as Lou, Ri­hanna as Nine Ball, Mindy Kaling as Amita, Awk­wa­fina as Con­stance, He­lena Bon­ham Carter as Rose, Anne Hath­away as Daphne Kluger and Sarah Paul­son as Tammy in “Oceans 8.”

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