Big studio movies are marketed so heavily these days, beginning so far in advance, that by the time the hyped picture in question finally lands, we can’t be sure we haven’t already seen it. These movies are like comets that arrive tail-first: The fiery streak of advertising momentum is dazzling; the big rock trailing behind is almost an afterthought. If we’re lucky, it’s still smoking a little when it hits.
That marketing mechanism actually hurts not-bad but not-great summer movies like Ocean’s 8. Directed by Gary Ross (Seabiscuit, The Hunger Games), Ocean’s 8 is a mixy-matchy caper assembled from the glitter dust of Steven Soderbergh’s Ocean’s 11 and its two sequels, Ocean’s 12 and 13. All four of these movies owe their existence to the not-very-good but nonetheless legendary 1960 Ocean’s 11, a heist comedy that coasted almost exclusively on the breezy cool of its stars, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Sammy Davis Jr.
The genius stroke of this Ocean’s spinoff its nearly all-woman cast: Sandra Bullock is Debbie Ocean, the sister of the apparently deceased Danny, played by George Clooney in the earlier movies. As Ocean’s 8 opens, Debbie is just getting sprung from the big house. Almost as soon as she’s out—released into broad daylight, in the evening togs she was wearing when she was arrested—she gets in touch with an old pal and trusted partner in crime, Cate Blanchett’s leggy rock’n’roll bird Lou. Debbie’s new scheme, dreamed up during long hours spent in solitary confinement, involves an elaborate jewel heist to be staged at the biggest society wingding of the year, the Met Gala. Lou signs on almost immediately, and Debbie quickly assembles the rest of the team: A speed jeweler (Mindy Kaling), a suburban wife and mom who’s an ace at fencing stolen goods (Sarah Paulson), a hacker extraordinaire (Rihanna), a Vivienne Westwood-esque fashion designer (Helena Bonham Carter) and a skateboarding sleight-of-hand artist (Awkwafina). Anne Hathaway’s spoiled starlet Daphne Kluger becomes a pawn in the gang’s elaborate jewel switcheroo.
With a promising cast like that, not to mention the glittery party setting, Ocean’s 8 should be great fun. Instead, it’s a kind of noncommittal semi-fun. The plot is reasonably well worked out, with only a few loopholes through which disbelief can wriggle through easily enough. The amusing cameos include an all-too-brief appearance by national treasure Elliott Gould, reprising his role from the Soderbergh Ocean movies: His Reuben Tishkoff is a pro huckster in Swifty Lazar glasses. The costumes, by Sarah Edwards, are mostly fab: The biggest standout is a baby blue tuxedo, worn by Blanchett’s Lou, that could have sprung from the wild imagination of ‘60s London tailor Tommy Nutter. All of the performers are up for the adventure, though most of them don’t get enough to do, particularly the deadpan trickster Awkwafina, who’s marvelous in her few brief scenes. (One of the movie’s best sequences, a lovely little fillip, involves Awkwafina and Kaling and an impromptu lesson in the workings of Tinder.)
If Ocean’s 8 had dropped out of almost nowhere—that is, without six months’ worth of advance hype—we could all be pleasantly surprised by it and have a great time. Instead, a movie that should have been a summer bonbon comes at us like an overloaded parade float. Ross—who also cowrote the script, with Olivia Milch—doesn’t hit the beats as squarely as he needs to. The movie’s rhythms are precariously wobbly; it needs to zip along lightly, as if motored by the energy of champagne bubbles. Ocean’s 8 is one of those movies that’s enjoyable enough in the moment, but you’re likely to forget what you saw within 10 minutes of leaving the theater. It promised us diamonds; we’ll just have to make do with CZ.