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'Ocean's 8': What's Bad for the Gander is Bad for the Goose

By Michael S. GoldbergeriBerkshires film critic
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Watching director Gary Ross' "Ocean's 8," starring Sandra Bullock in a feminine spinoff of the "Ocean's 11" (1960) franchise, I couldn't help but get cynically philosophical. Did I somewhere along the way of reviewing movies fall into a Rip Van Winkle-like sleep, only to awake and find that stealing obscene amounts of valuables was now not only OK, but lauded? I'm not talking politicians who'd back up their trucks to Fort Knox if they could. I refer to our unelected criminals earning mass approval at the Bijou.
 
Of course, there is a sliding scale of acceptability, with Robin Hood earning a 10. Shh! While a bit out of favor lately, he gave to the poor, unafraid that it would weaken them while cramping Prince John's princely style of living. Other favored brigands in real life and literature are forgiven their illegal ways in the name of poetic justice and sometimes, as in the case of "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" (1969), because they are so cool. Still, even such exoneration is not without its inevitable comeuppance.
 
With these parameters for pardons of the motion picture variety long in place, I scoured my brain to find what great accomplishment or rationale gives Sandra Bullock's Debbie Ocean and her seven accomplices the right to heist a $150 million necklace at the Met Gala. OK, I know it's the insurance company that will pay for their pilferage. But while I must allow that being put in touch with all sorts of interesting, would-be helpful folks from distant lands when attempting to gain information from insurers via telephone has its challenges, I seek no vicarious revenge.
 
Furthermore, while claiming neither the couturier smarts of Blackwell nor the character judgment of F. Scott Fitzgerald, I'm wondering why I should care in the least about Miss Ocean. Because she's stylish? Because she quips caustically if not wittily? Granted, she was double-crossed by a lover and subsequently sent to prison. And giving away a bit of her complex, minutiae-filled gambit, a piece of it has to do with having no fury like a grifter scorned.
 
But again, pardon my Van Winkle absence: Do two wrongs now make a right? Save for perhaps a few other cultural criticisms that may comprise my closing thoughts, this ends the righteous indignation component of the review. Otherwise, the structure of the film director Ross penned with Olivia Milch is typical of the genre. Bullock's mastermind, upon her release from prison, recalls the assurances given by the wolf in a cartoon version of "Little Red Riding Hood": "I'll go straight ... straight to Grandma's house." Here, Debbie immediately begins putting together a crew, starting with her old gal pal Lou, played by Cate Blanchett.
 
While I won't tell you whether the all-female gang succeeds in its grand larceny, it behooves to sadly note that Blanchett as the number two brains behind the operation is robbed of any opportunity to display her thespic chops. Filling one of several compartments of specialty each lady brings to the job, her part is bereft of any allure, curiosity or élan. It's one thing when a mediocre actress is saddled with a poorly imagined character. But it's as jarring as fingernails scratching a blackboard when someone of Blanchett's caliber is thus slighted.
 
All of which brings me to that part of the review where I must tread on perilous ground: The Feminist Issue. Having lost Gloria Steinem's phone number, who I would have much preferred to chime in on this matter, I tread stealthily in my scrutiny. The point is, if at McDonald's with little Britney, Taylor or Isabella for après theater fries and discussion after imbibing "Ocean's 8," I'd have to burst the bubble of ebullience just a bit. I would note that whereas "Wonder Woman" (2017) provided inspiring role models, this is essentially the anti-"Wonder Woman."
 
The contention, no matter how glitzily etched, that Debbie Ocean et al can be as criminal as any group of men, is, in the war between the sexes, a pyrrhic victory at best. Ordering a second round of fries against my better judgment, I would then solemnly assure: "Yes, Olivia, you have the ability to con, cheat, steal and embezzle as well as any man ... but please, don't! Remember, it's not nice." 
 
Of course, the concerned parent then hopes to hear, "Oh, Dad, I know all that, it's just make-believe." Celebrating this heartening news, I announce, "McFlurries all around."
 
Perhaps, if there weren't a crisis of honesty awash in the land, and some folks, for the sake of convenience, weren't being so easily persuaded that wrong is right, there'd be less sanctimony in my words. But a line has been crossed. Fiction has been, since time immemorial, a secret path to the truth, a bastion where good flourishes over evil. Hence, by glamorizing bad behavior in the name of equality, "Ocean's 8" abrogates art's sacred mission and earns my deep six.
 
"Ocean's 8," rated PG-13, is a Warner Bros. release directed by Gary Ross and stars Sandra Bullock, Cate Blanchett and Helena Bonham Carter. Running time: 110 minutes

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