The Ocean's franchise proves to be alive and well in "Ocean's Eight," without the benefit of megastars George Clooney, Matt Damon and Brad Pitt -- or any males in major roles, for that matter. Director Gary Ross ably takes over for Steven Soderbergh, who steps back into a producer's role.
That this all-female heist flick is something of a novelty speaks to the inequities of our times. The fact that the likes of Sandra Bullock, Cate Blanchett, Sarah Paulson and Anne Hathaway pull off the trick with ease and confidence is no surprise, and speaks to the sense that it's a long time in coming that a female cast can take over films that traditionally were filled with men.
There's a stark feminist message at play. The women take advantage of the ways society tends to underestimate and dismiss them, providing openings for them to exploit, staying several steps ahead of security and law enforcement foes as they set up their play.
As Debbie Ocean, the newly sprung from jail sister of late criminal mastermind Danny Ocean, Bullock does the family business proud. The target this time is an exotic diamond necklace worth tens of millions of dollars. Working her contacts in both legitimate and sketchy fronts, Debbie forms a crack team of swindlers who work in concert to execute the big score that promises to set them all for life.
The gang sets up a clever, comprehensively-planned -- if way overcomplicated -- scheme to make off with the jewels.
The screenplay by Ross and Olivia Milch is every bit as elaborate as the blueprints, whiteboard sketches and hacking maneuvers the team pulls off. Less proves to be more, with cutting, witty insights replacing what lesser writers would toss to catch-phrases and obvious rants.
To a lady, the crew is suave and unflappable. There is a constant battle of wits at play, in which the gang members wrestle with non-nerbal cues and negative space to establish the hierarchy and mental upper hand. Each is aware that one of the others could be pulling one over on them in just the way they collectively are duping the powers that be.
With a wily, unpredictable plot that ticks like clockwork -- maybe even too neatly so -- the film keeps you guessing and piles on one startling revelation after the next. The film tends to use montages to smugly over-explain its trickery, but at least it proves that the clues were always there in plain sight.
Ross and his cast succeed at making the audience feel as though they're in on the con. In getting you to root for the shameless anti-heroes as they accomplish their dirty deeds, "Ocean's Eight" echoes the trick of its male-dominated predecessors.
RATING: 3 stars out of 4.