``Ocean's 8'' is a big shiny cubic zirconia of a movie.
It's designed to look and feel exactly like the best moments of the previous ``Ocean's'' installments, and indeed the new film can be lots of fun -- with its well-cast female leads, patriarchy-breaking vibe and creative central heist.
But there is something slightly off, partly in the pacing and also in the concept. Plot decisions, made in the name of style, greatly strain believability. While individual scenes are enjoyable, the whole of the film feels like a diminished copy.
``Ocean's 8'' stars Sandra Bullock as Debbie Ocean, and takes place in the universe of the Steven Soderbergh ``Ocean's'' movies. These ties are probably meant as comfort but they serve as distraction. If Danny Ocean had such a smart, capable, ethically compromised sister, shouldn't she have been his first call in ``Ocean's 11,'' ``Ocean's 12'' and ``Ocean's 13''?
Sandra Bullock seems a bit muted, and is maybe 70 percent as delightful as we've come to expect after ``The Blind Side,'' ``Gravity'' and the underrated buddy comedy ``The Heat.'' But she's still a very solid lead, and her energy picks up steadily as her entertaining crew is assembled.
The cast is excellent, often playing off their own stereotypes as actresses. Anne Hathaway dives into her role as an arrogant star. Rapper/comedian Awkwafina stands out as a streetwise thief, making the most of her handful of scenes. Helena Bonham Carter seems to be playing Helena Bonham Carter, except as a kooky fashion designer -- with access to Madonna's early 1980s wardrobe.
There's a feeling throughout the film that woman always have things harder than men -- even when it comes to a painstakingly premeditated grand theft.
``A him gets noticed and a her gets ignored,'' Cate Blanchett's Lou says, picking a woman for a job instead of a man, ``and for once I want to be ignored.''
While the build-up is slow, the jewel theft at the Met Gala is well-executed. Director Gary Ross and film editor Juliet Welfing successfully mimic Soderbergh's flair for building tension while maintaining coherence, and maximizing the payoff.
But while the individual moments work, the whole of the movie feels a bit too procedural, and not personal enough. The stakes seem lower in this film, perhaps because ``Oceans 8'' doesn't have a central villain.
The better Ocean's movies maintained tension by crafting bad guys who represented a genuine menace, capable of meting out punishment much worse than jail. In ``Ocean's 8,'' the crew faces off against a sleazy but harmless ex-boyfriend (Richard Armitage), and pretty much no one else of consequence. One twist at the end defies logic, and another comes out of the ether. The setbacks don't seem as critical, and the triumphs are a little less thrilling.
``Ocean's 8'' is in a category of films that reward viewers who view the cinemas as an escape, rather than an arena of deep thought. If you're coming off a super bad week, or have had a few drinks, or just happen to find a crowded theater where laughs are contagious, you'll have a much better time. If you rent the movie and view it alone, you'll probably laugh three times, and never watch it again.
One final note: This film is lousy with cameos, including Anna Wintour playing herself, Dakota Fanning in a small role and multiple Kardashians in the frame during the gala, which grind the viewing experience to a disappointing halt. We need a name for a collection from that particular reality star family -- like a pod of whales, or a murder of crows. Humbling nominating ``an annoyance of Kardashians.''
Peter Hartlaub is The San Francisco Chronicle's pop culture critic.
2 stars out of 4 stars Heist comedy. Starring Sandra Bullock, Cate Blanchett and Anne Hathaway. Directed by Gary Ross. (PG-13. 110 minutes.)
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