One of Nora Ephron’s first scripting gigs was Perfect Gentlemen, a TV heist movie in which Lauren Bacall put together a crew of interesting actresses – Sandy Dennis, Ruth Gordon, Lisa Pelikan – to make a big score. Part of their schtick was transvestism – dressing as men so the cops wouldn’t look for them after the getaway. That isn’t going to wash in this soft reboot of the Soderbergh-Clooney-star-studded retooling of the Rat Pack vehicle – in which a big part of the coup means that all the women on this crew get at one point to doll up in super frocks and strut past security with ‘Liz Taylor bling’ sparkling around them.
This doesn’t spend much time pushing feminism – as the all-girl Ghostbusters remake was perceived to do – which may be why it hasn’t stirred up internet woman-haters quite so much, and its single funniest speech (about pulling off the job because somewhere there’s ‘an eight year old girl lying in her bed dreaming of being a criminal’) stresses the parodic, inverted values of the whole enterprise. That this is an exercise in display rather than larceny is tipped off by the briefing sequence in which Debbie Ocean (Sandra Bullock) – sister of the obviously-not-dead-really Danny – fills her crew in on the Met Gala, where she plans to lift a valuable but clunky Cartier diamond necklace, and its hot ticket nature, and someone pipes up with ‘couldn’t we just go to the party – do we have to rob it?’ This is all about going to the party, and – inevitably – the pickings there are a little disappointing, especially since this made-up event with a host of microcameos by celebs too thin and pretty to be distinguished one from the other is far less outrageous than this year’s blasphemy-themed gala.
The other Oceans films – the ones with guys – pit the gang against mob-run casinos, which it’s traditionally all right to rob … but here the victims are the Cartier diamond house and their insurers, who might not be the easiest people to feel sorry for but are real enough not to want to be depicted as baddies in a film they’re co-operating with, so there’s no get-out clause about, say, lifting blood diamonds from a horribly corrupt politician’s trophy wife. Getting back at Debbie’s weasel ex (Richard Armitage) is part of the deal, but he’s not much of a villain. James Corden shows up at the end of the film as an insurance investigator who gets compared to Columbo, who plainly sees through the whole scam – but there was never that much tension, or even the possibility of the sort of ironic twist that capped the original Ocean’s Eleven, made in an era before movie heisters could get away with it. Bullock and Cate Blanchett are a low-wattage buddy couple – Blanchett gets disappointingly little to do – and the rest of the crew are just jokes, if only intermittently amusing … Helena Bonham Carter as an Irish fashion designer, Rihanna as a hacker who could as easily be the black hacker from the Fast and Furious films in drag, Anne Hathaway as a swan-necked neurotic movie star, Mindy Kaling as an Indian jeweler with a smothering Mom, Awkwafina as a street-talking Asian pickpocket, Sarah Paulsen as a suburban Mom.
The heist itself doesn’t seem all that clever, and a late-in-the-day job-within-a-job reveal depends on withholding from the audience and key characters a revelation that ought to have been headline news all week. Co-written by Olivia Milch and director Gary Ross (Pleasantville, The Hunger Games), it’s decently put-together but too mild to be as much fun as you might hope for. If the numbers are to be filled in, the stakes better be higher next time … and the Cannes film festival diamond heist by lesbian supermodel seduction in the ladies’ room in Brian DePalma’s Femme Fatale remains unrivalled.