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Futurama: Bender's Game

Doesn't reach the comedic heights as the first straight-to-video movie —Andrea Birgers (DVD review...)

Bender's Game for some swords and sorcery in the 3rd Futurama movie

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Ocean’s Eight smoothly cracks the code for sequelitis.

Eight Is the New Eleven

Plotting a fashionable heist
Plotting a fashionable heist

The opening is familiar. A convict sits in front of a parole board, reassuring her inquisitors she’s reformed and ready to live a “simple life.” She wants to go for a walk in the fresh air after work, keep it clean, do good. Yadda yadda yadda.

The convict in this case is Debbie Ocean (Sandra Bullock, Miss Congeniality), sister of legendary con Danny Ocean. After spending 5 years, 8 months and 12 days in the Big House, she’s ready for the good life, all right. And that good life comes with a nice price tag: more than $150 million by way of a clever heist she intends to stage during the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s annual Met Gala. She’s had the time to think it through and plot it all out.

What follows is a facsimile of Steven Soderbergh’s fizzy directorial style as seen in his Ocean’s trilogy from 2001-2007. Marking the 11th anniversary of the release of Ocean’s Thirteen (to the day: June 8, 2007), it’s the right time to revisit the Ocean family and go all-in on a new heist. For the most part, it’s an improvement, particularly when compared to the overly self-infatuated Soderbergh sequels. (Soderbergh, for his part, serves as an executive producer here.)

The conceit, so to speak, for this installment is that it’s an entirely female team of con artists, with some of the original “Oceanographers” making quick cameos. A cynical take would say this movie’s riding the wave of the #metoo movement and other calls for female empowerment. But that’d be cutting the movie short of some well-earned credit.

The Devil Wears Toussaint

Unlike the awkward transition seen in the female-led Ghostbusters reboot, which sported cameos by some of the original cast — but as completely different characters from those they played in the 1980s movies — this one casts Debbie as the sister of Danny, who very recently passed away under undisclosed circumstances.

A photo of George Clooney’s Danny Ocean suffices as his “cameo” and the movie cruises along on its own terms as Debbie rounds up her team of ladies. That team includes A-listers like Cate Blanchett (Thor: Ragnarok) and Anne Hathaway (The Dark Knight Rises) along with other headliners, including Rihanna (Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets), Mindy Kaling (A Wrinkle in Time) and Helena Bonham Carter (Sweeney Todd).

Why no men? She has an interesting rationale: Men get noticed, women don’t. And with her target being a Cartier piece of over-the-top extravagance called the Toussaint, a necklace valued at $150 million and sporting 6 pounds of diamonds, it’s an ideal setting for Debbie to place an all-female team of top-notch cons.

Well, hang on. No men? That’s not entirely accurate. In the thick of the heist, Debbie pulls a fast one and — out of nowhere — Yen (Shaobo Qin), the Asian acrobatic expert from the Danny Ocean escapades, is enlisted for a last-minute sleight of hand.

It’s both a clever tie-in to the Soderbergh trilogy and an incredibly unnecessary tie-in to the Soderbergh trilogy. Why not pull in somebody like Milla Jovovich or Charlize Theron and stay with Debbie’s credo? At the very least, enlisting Yen is a cheap cheat.

The Ego Has Landed

Seasoned writer-director Gary Ross (Seabiscuit, The Hunger Games) and newcomer co-writer Olivia Milch hit on a lot of timely ideas with this caper, extending the action and themes well beyond the headline-grabbing all-female leads.

Sure, it’s a fantasy scenario, but it’s still a little scary to see how technology like digital printing and Google Glass can be so easily enlisted for illegal activities. Only 11 years ago, when Ocean’s 13 set out on their one last heist, this technology was still just a fantasy.

In the process, Ross and Milch avoid one of the most irritating things about the Soderbergh trilogy. Oftentimes, it felt like it was more fun being a part of the clique, being a member of Danny’s gang, than being on the outside looking in, as a member of the movie-going audience.

Playing against expectations, even in the high-fashion world of the Met Gala (where loads of blink-and-miss-it cameos are made), there’s something more down to earth about Debbie than Danny. She plays off the vanity of others rather than embodies it herself. And, while her heist is partly driven by romantic revenge, she also takes the con to a higher ground, leaving the insular world of Las Vegas for an even bigger canvas.