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'Ocean's 8' review: Female-centric spinoff falls flat

Sandra Bullock, left, Sarah Paulson, Rihanna, Cate Blanchett

Sandra Bullock, left, Sarah Paulson, Rihanna, Cate Blanchett and Awkwafina in "Ocean's 8."   Credit: Barry Wetcher

PLOT Eight women attempt to pull off a jewel heist at the annual Met Gala fundraiser.

CAST Sandra Bullock, Cate Blanchett, Sarah Paulson

RATED PG-13 (some adult talk)

LENGTH 1:50

BOTTOM LINE A flat, fizzless spin-off of the “Ocean’s 11” movies.

In “Ocean's 8,” Sandra Bullock plays Debbie Ocean, a freshly sprung felon who puts together an all-female gang of criminals. Their target: the Met Gala, an annual fundraising ball for the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where a $150 million necklace will be wrapped around the visible neck of supermodel Daphne Kluger (Anne Hathaway).

The real-life cast, though, has the tougher task: launching a women-led version of the “Ocean's 11” movies that have been dominated by alpha-males from Frank Sinatra in the 1960 original to George Clooney in the modern-day trilogy from director Steven Soderbergh.

It's a tall order, especially given 2016's “Ghostbusters,” another gender-flipped spinoff of a beloved property. That botched movie was a semi-remake that never let its talented female stars fully establish their own identities. “Ocean's 8” has a different problem: Gender aside, this heist movie simply doesn't offer much in the way of suspense, fun or surprises.

That's too bad, because Bullock has plenty of swagger and style as the sister of Clooney’s Danny Ocean; where he exited prison in a rakish suit, she struts out in stacked heels and a slinky black top. Bullock also has some potentially stellar castmates, starting with Cate Blanchett as Lou, an old partner in crime, followed by Helena Bonham Carter as fashion designer Rose Weil and Sarah Paulson as suburban mom Tammy (who fences stolen goods on the side). Less impressive are Mindy Kaling as a jeweler, Rihanna as a sullen hacker named Nine Ball and rapper-actress Awkwafina as an ambitious street scammer. (Yes, that’s only seven women; the identity of No. 8 is meant to be a shocking reveal.)

Directed with casual, no-sweat pacing by Gary Ross (“The Hunger Games,” “Seabiscuit”), who wrote the screenplay with Olivia Milch, “Ocean’s 8” is a heist movie that doesn’t have nearly enough scams, cons, disguises, switcheroos or any of the stuff you’d want from a heist movie. How does Weil convince the capricious Kluger to wear that pricey necklace? She convinces her it’ll look good. How does Tammy arrange the table seatings just so? She legitimately applies for the job and gets hired. For a bunch of thieves, these women have an odd habit of playing by the rules.

Even more odd is that “Ocean’s 8” brings in one of the original 11 for a coup de grace that, perhaps unintentionally, sends the wrong message. Did these women really need a man’s assistance? Or did they just need a better movie?

FOUR MORE: HEIST MOVIES WITH FEMALE LEADS

"Ocean’s 8” isn’t the first heist movie with a female lead, and it won’t be the last -- “Widows,” a crime-thriller starring Viola Davis, is due in November. Here are four more examples of this rare genre:

"Topkapi" (1964) A motley crew of crooks, led by Elizabeth Lipp (Greek actress Melina Mercouri), devises a daring plan to steal a massive jewel from Istanbul’s Topkapi Palace. It’s a stylish early entry in the international-thriller genre, with exotic locales and a global cast that included Maximilian Schell, Robert Morley and, in an Oscar-winning performance, Peter Ustinov.

"How to Steal a Million" (1966) In this art-themed caper, Peter O’Toole’s rakish Simon Dermott does the burgling, but Audrey Hepburn’s wealthy Nicole Bonnet puts him up to it. William Wyler (“The Best Years of Our Lives”) directed this jaunty movie without an ounce of his usual seriousness.

"Set It Off" (1996) Following the box-office success of “Boyz n the Hood” and other male-led “urban” movies, director F. Gary Gray (later of “Straight Outta Compton”) delivered this gritty crime drama about four women who decide -- each for different reasons -- to rob a bank. The cast included Jada Pinkett Smith, Queen Latifah, Vivica A. Fox and Kimberly Elise.

"Mad Money" (2008) Latifah again plays a thief, this time in a comedy alongside Diane Keaton and Katie Holmes as her co-conspirators. Of all the films on this list, “Mad Money” is the only one directed by a woman, Callie Khouri, who wrote “Thelma and Louise.” Ted Danson plays Keaton’s supportive husband.

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