Ocean’s Eleven is not a masterpiece; it’s one of those movies which got a good rap because it managed not to be terrible despite being a remake of a corny heist movie with Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin. Ocean’s Eight is a worked exercise in why that happened. Heist plot? present and correct. Charming cast, working below their potential? Absolutely. Steven Soderbergh? Absent. Ooops.
What nails the point is this movie from last year, when Soderbergh went back to the heist well to tell a simple heist story properly. Robbery in the right place, uncertainty in the right place, and tension all where it should be. He made it all seem effortless, and then along comes this movie to remind us of how much real work it takes to make anything look effortless.
Part of the problem is that Ocean’s Eight isn’t really funny enough. There aren’t that many laugh out loud lines, and the only one I’ve quoted since was “This is a non-stop flight to nowhere with no peanuts.” Finding a context to make that funny took hundreds of bureaucrats crammed into an airless room talking about nothing until it was like that time in the Superman movie when he flew around in circles so fast that time started running backwards. At that moment, when death seemed almost too much to hope for, that line finally seemed funnier than what was going on around me.
I’m being a little unfair. There’s also a great inspirational speech from Sandra Bullock’s Debbie Ocean, as she reminds the gang that they’re not doing this for themselves, or each other, or the money, but because somewhere out there, there’s a little eight year old girl who dreams of being a criminal, and they owe it to her to give her inspiration. But to balance that out, there’s James Corden, so that’s a wash, really.
Mostly, it’s just the pacing. It’s a heist movie, so the plan has to be ingenious, and apparently on the edge of going calamitously wrong until it all turns out to be part of the scheme. Instead the robbery goes off without any real problems, and the follow up scam is somehow too weightless to register. You see, they weren’t really stealing what you thought they were stealing. Psych! Except that what they turned out to be stealing supposedly belonged to some utterly scary Russian oligarchs, and there’s no way that they’re going to take that lying down. Which if course is the way in which they made a sequel to Ocean’s Eleven, and look how that turned out.
Anyhow, they get a shed load of money and live happily ever after, which is when I started going “Huh?”. Because a big part of the plot engine is that Helena Bonham Carter’s character (who inexplicably has an in-and-out Irish accent) is broke and being audited by the IRS, so she needs money. But if you’ve got the IRS all up in your business, how on earth do you get away with producing millions of dollars out of nowhere to pay off your tax debt? The IRS don’t run on my business model. I might just take the money, shrug, and say “A win’s a win, what do I care where it came from?” The IRS are going to want a bit more than that ...