Starring Sandra Bullock, Cate Blanchett, Anne Hathaway, Helena Bonham Carter, Mindy Kaling; directed by Gary Ross; 110 minutes; PG-13 for strong language, drug use and some suggestive material.
Most every successful heist movie, like a heist itself, functions by obeying a well-defined formula.
First comes the setup and backstory. Next up: the assembly of the team (diverse in skill and, ideally, ethnicity). That's followed by planning and execution, which by necessity must go at least a tiny bit awry. The misstep is inevitably due to human error and rectified by human improvisation. The coda reveals a satisfying twist, generally delivered in flashbacks to those parts of the crime that we have not been shown.
By those lights, "Oceans 8" is a dutiful (if, at times, also cheeky) heir to the franchise that began in 2001 with Steven Soderbergh's reboot of the original "Ocean's 11," a suave exemplar of a male-dominated lineage that runs from the noirish "Rififi" (1955) to last year's country-fried caper flick "Logan Lucky," also by Soderbergh.
What lends this genre outing more than a touch of topical interest is the female-centric cast, headed by Sandra Bullock and including a lively band of actresses in strong supporting roles. Like the gender-flipped "Ghostbusters," this movie neither reinvents nor dishonors its inspiration, instead adding a modicum of zip to a vehicle that runs you through the staging of a crime by, ironically, obeying all the traffic laws.
Bullock plays con artist Debbie Ocean, who, as the film begins, is being released after a five-year stint in prison for running a scam. The sister of George Clooney's Danny Ocean, the mink-oil-slick grifter who headlined the previous three "Ocean's" films - and who, we quickly learn, is recently deceased - Debbie has hit upon a plan: steal a $150 million diamond necklace during the Met Gala, the splashy annual fundraiser of the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Costume Institute. Crime, it seems, is not only in her blood - despite her protestations to the contrary to the parole board - it is also the only way she knows how to pay the rent.
The first, and least engaging, part of the tale involves what amounts to an HR recruitment video for the underworld. With the assistance of her sometime partner-in-crime Lou (Cate Blanchett), Debbie puts together the requisite rogue's gallery of outlaws.
From this point on, the film slowly picks up steam, delivering more and greater pleasures, mainly in the form of illegal logistics and comedy, as it navigates its way to the climax.