There's a whole lot to like in "Ocean's 8," the long-awaited spin-off from Steven Soderbergh's "Ocean's Trilogy."
Perhaps most importantly, it's a fun heist flick, one that tweaks the genre formula for the modern day with new roles, new skills and new types of personalities playing essential cogs in the wheel.
There's also the film's superstar cast, clearly enjoying themselves and playing off one another's strengths.
Finally, there's the way this film honors its predecessors and the legacy they carry on a new direction.
It doesn't all work as well as it should -- the film has some pacing issues and not every comic beat lands squarely -- but overall what audiences get is very smart, very entertaining, and best of all full of surprises.
What's it about?
Just as in the 2001 "Ocean's Eleven" movie that started it all, "Ocean's 8" begins with a member of the Ocean family getting out of the joint and not wasting any time starting on a new, not-exactly-legal endeavor.
This time, it's Debbie Ocean (Sandra Bullock), who has spent the past five years in the clink planning what would be the biggest heist of her criminal career and one of the most lucrative thefts in history.
To pull it off, she'll need to put together the perfect crew, just as her brother Danny did years ago. Along with her lifelong pal and partner-in-crime Lou (Cate Blanchett), she recruits an eccentric fashion designer (Helena Bonham Carter), a fence-turned-homemaker (Sarah Paulson), a jeweler (Mindy Kaling), a hacker (Rihanna) and a street hustler (Awkwafina) to commit the crime right in the middle of the annual Metropolitan Museum of Art Gala in New York City.
As in any good heist film, not everything goes according to plan. Debbie, however, insists she's prepared for every contingency, and she is, after all, an Ocean.
What could possibly go wrong?
Maintaining the cool
Director Gary Ross ("The Hunger Games", "Seabiscuit") seems to understand that crafting a worthy successor to the "Ocean's Trilogy" isn't just about putting together a solid heist film.
That's hard enough, but for it to earn a place in what's come before the film must project that signature cool that brings a smile to audiences faces without fail. The characters, the music, the sheer audacity of the plan and the unflappable way every member of the team does their job -- it all has to be there, mixed together with precise timing, excitement and lots of clever humor.
Ross, who came up with the story and co-wrote the script, gets most of the formula right. If "Ocean's 8" comes up short anywhere, it's in the film's editing, as there are moments when narrative energy lags, and some scenes lack the timing and snap that characterized Soderbergh's films.
Cast having fun
Naturally, it's the stars of "Ocean's 8" that really make this film as enjoyable as it is.
Bullock's Debbie Ocean should immediately evoke fond memories of George Clooney's timeless take on Danny. Inexhaustibly calm, collected and charismatic, Bullock makes it all look easy, from the planning to the cons to the nerve to see it all through to the end.
Blanchett, however, may impress audiences even more, just because it is yet more evidence that she really can do anything. From moody period pieces to villainous turns in superhero films to now riding motorcycles and trading quips as Debbie's right-hand woman and confidante, she brings what she always has -- intelligence, charm, and palpable strength -- and every moment she's on screen the film is better for it.
All that said, just about everyone in this cast has moments on screen that should stand out in memory. Bonham Carter and Anne Hathaway's enjoyable work here shouldn't surprise anyone, but audiences less familiar with the work of Paulson, Kaling, and Awkwafina are in for a treat, as well.
Putting aside the appeal of the ensemble cast and the connections to the original trilogy, which are each compelling reasons to see "Ocean's 8," the best reason may just be that it's a very entertaining film.
Is it perfectly put together in terms of heist films? No, but bear in mind that the previous two "Ocean's" films weren't without their faults, either. Those films overcame their deficiencies and turned out to be entertaining films thanks to the talent and chemistry of their ensembles, and the same should prove true for this entry.
Starring Sandra Bullock, Cate Blanchett, Anne Hathaway, Mindy Kaling, Sarah Paulson, Awkwafina, with Rihanna and Helena Bonham Carter. Directed by Gary Ross.
Running time: 110 minutes
Rated PG-13 for language, drug use, and some suggestive content.