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‘Ocean’s 8’ is more than enough

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Anyone who digs a good heist/caper movie carries a fondness for the “Ocean’s” series of movies. 2001’s “Ocean’s Eleven,” 2004’s “Ocean’s Twelve” and 2007’s “Ocean’s Thirteen” were a stylized delight, reinvigorating the genre via the directorial talents of Steven Soderbergh and the tremendous cast, anchored by the movie star triumvirate of George Clooney, Brad Pitt and Matt Damon atop some phenomenal ensemble casts.

It’s such a wonderful trilogy, in fact, that one can certainly understand the skepticism felt my moviegoers upon hearing the announcement of a new, female-led installment in the series. However, “Ocean’s 8” largely puts that skepticism to rest; while the film doesn’t necessarily reach the heights of the initial films, it’s got a powerhouse cast of its own telling a story that – while a bit implausible – is still a heck of a lot of fun.

This time around, the titular Ocean is Debbie (Sandra Bullock, “Our Brand is Crisis”) – sister to Clooney’s Danny. She’s fresh out of prison, having spent five years inside thanks to art fraud gone bad. Upon her release, she immediately returns to her illicit ways, seeking out her old friend and partner Lou (Cate Blanchett, “Thor: Ragnarok”) in order to execute an elaborate plan she concocted while incarcerated.

Debbie’s target is the Toussaint, a legendary Cartier diamond necklace worth in excess of $150 million. But to get it, she needs more than just Lou – she needs a crew.

Debbie and Lou start recruiting. They bring in disgraced fashion designer Rose Weil (Helena Bonham Carter, “55 Steps”); the plan is for her to dress famous movie star Daphne Kluger (Anne Hathaway, “Colossal”) for the annual Met Gala so that she might wear the Toussaint. There are newcomers like edgy computer hacker Nine Ball (Rihanna, “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets”) and brash streetwise pickpocket Constance (Awkwafina, “Dude”) alongside old friends like put-upon jeweler Amita (Mindy Kaling, “A Wrinkle in Time”) and not-really-retired fence Tammy (Sarah Paulson, “The Post”).

Together, this group puts Debbie’s plan into action – in fact, one could say they put Ocean into motion.

What follows is the Rube Goldberg-ian mass of moving parts that one expects from the “Ocean’s” brand of movie heists, with this group of women covering every base in their quest to get their collective hands on the necklace. There are obstacles, of course. Among the biggest are art dealer – and Debbie’s ex - Claude Becker (Richard Armitage, “Sleepwalker”) and insurance investigator John Frazier (James Corden, “Peter Rabbit”), but the movie isn’t called “Becker’s 8” – you can probably guess how things play out.

There are those who are going to dismiss this film out of hand due to some misplaced antipathy toward the notion of the gender-swapped reboot (and yes, this is technically a sequel rather than a reboot, but the same stunted attitudes apply). Those people are going to miss out on what winds up being a pretty good time at the movies.

Does “Ocean’s 8” rise to the level of the original trilogy? Well, it might not ascend to the loftiest heist heights, but I’d argue that it slots comfortably above “Ocean’s Thirteen” in the hierarchy. No one is going to confuse this movie’s writer-director Gary Ross with Soderbergh, but Ross is a solid filmmaker in his own right, with a robust body of work. Again, he isn’t quite to Soderbergh’s level as a stylist, but really – who is? A spirit of fun permeates the proceedings in a way that makes for eminently watchable fare.

Of course, as with any movie like this, the casting is key. And Ross has put together a first-rate assemblage of talent here. Bullock – who hasn’t appeared on the big screen in three years – is an ideal central figure for a film like this. She subverts her inherent likability much in the same way that Clooney did; she’s a great choice for the foundation of the film. Blanchett provides an excellent foil, a loud counterpoint to Bullock’s quiet cool. She’s great in her own right, but the two of them together are particularly fun. Carter’s baseline quirkiness is well-suited for her role. There’s not a lot of complexity to the characters played by Rihanna and Awkwafina, but both hit their one note with close to perfect pitch. Kaling and especially Paulson feel a bit underutilized, unfortunately; they’re too talented to have this little to do. Still, they take advantage of what they do have. And Hathaway is legitimately great, having a little fun undercutting the nature of the self-important egotism of the very famous.

(Oh, and there are a couple of cameos that serve as connective tissue tying this film into the original trilogy. No spoilers, but you’ll know them when you see them.)

“Ocean’s 8” isn’t going to cause anyone to forget the previous films, but that’s fine. It isn’t intended to do anything of the sort. It’s just a fun addition to the franchise, a popcorn caper featuring some talented performers having what is, by all appearances, a hell of a good time.

[4 out of 5]

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