Maybe we should call it Ivanka: The Movie.

Too soon?

Okay, I know: These Ocean’s movies are flashy junk food, and I’m probably wasting time in taking this one seriously enough to engage in political snark. But when a movie is made of money like this — so much money — and when it stars an A-list cast like this, well… it had better be Grade A junk food. Otherwise, it can only inspire questions about what went wrong. Like, “How could a movie starring Sandra Bullock, Cate Blanchett, Rihanna, and Helena Bonham Carter end up being so… bland?”

Directed by Gary Ross (who also dreamed up the story and co-wrote the script with Olivia Milch), Ocean’s 8 extends the Ocean’s series made famous by director Steven Soderbergh and his cast of smug, glamorous Hollywood icons like George Clooney and Brad Pitt. But it does so with a whole new con-artist collaboration. And who can resist, in this year of overthrowing misogynistic Hollywood monsters, a movie in which so many great actresses team up to put on a show? It’s especially satisfying to note that none of the eight in Ocean’s 8 seem particularly concerned about the lack of men in their lives. Men are for manipulating or punishing here, and while that may seem frivolous, it also feels earned.

Speaking of men — Ross admirably resists what must have been an tremendous temptation to please his audience with lots of cameos. Allowing he allows only two inconsequential glimpses of glamour guys from the first trilogy (and not the actors you might expect), Ross devotes this movie to his actresses, giving each one substantial screen time and banter—not to mention the extravagant costumes that are more likely to dominate post-viewing conversations than any storytelling twists and turns.

You know how these movies go: It’s not really necessary to describe the plot. Suffice it to say that master thief Danny Ocean has a sister with similar talents: Debbie Ocean (Sandra Bullock), just released from prison, wastes no time getting back to work at what she does best. Assembling a team of superfriends, she sets her sights on a jewel heist. The diamonds she hopes to swipe are buried deep underground, but Debbie has a plot to bring them out into the light of day by influencing a celebrity, the vainglorious Daphne Kluger (Anne Hathaway), to wear them to the Met Gala.

Debbie’s starting lineup for her spectacular swindle includes Lou (Cate Blanchett), her longtime partner in crime (the movie isn’t too subtle about how we should interpret that term); Rose (Helena Bonham Carter), a wacky  designer who may or may not be up for the demands of this job, and whose fashion sense suggests she might have once been involved with Tim Burton; Constance the pickpocket (Awkwafina); jeweler Amita (Mindy Kaling); a hacker called Nine Ball (Rihanna); and an anxious but habitual smuggler named Tammy (Sarah Paulson). But Debbie also relies on help from some supporting players, some of them oblivious to the schemes they’re advancing — include her aggravating ex Claude (Richard Armitage) and an insurance investigator (James Corden).

Wow… I mean, just look at that cast. How can this be anything but pure joy?

And yet, here we are. I’m not here to air major grievances: Ocean’s movies are meant to be lightweight fun, and a substandard entry is best shrugged off. But I’m a little bit aggravated to have ended up with a bag of bargain-store imitation M&Ms, when the Soderbergh trilogy took frivolous material and turned it into gourmet M&Ms with peanuts.

Soderbergh’s style is substance — the narratives were never particularly compelling. His editing, cinematography, and marriage of music and imagery — those were the reasons to buy tickets. Lose those, and you lose the primary strength of the series. They feel like musicals. Watching Eleven, Twelve and Thirteen is like watching a great magician or standup comedian at work: You’ll go back and watch the same routines again and again because it’s about more than just tricks and jokes — it’s about execution. This? Soderbergh’s movies live on the Roger Ebert principle: The movie isn’t about what it is about — it’s about how it is about it. But Ross’s film lacks any interesting how. So we’re left with, well… what it’s about. And who’s in it. And what they wear. That doesn’t energize me — it just gives me a cheap sugar rush. Nothing here feels even slightly risky or surprising. Everything feels derivative. Ross lacks the Soderbergh edge and capacity for surprise.

And that leaves me feeling pretty empty by the end.

Thus, my Ivanka snark: This ends up being about glamorous people in glamorous clothes trying to steal more wealth and carry out personal vendettas.

Photo by Barry Wetcher – © 2016 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

And in this political environment, that seems especially frustrating.

Ocean’s 8 shrugs about its characters’ obsessions with glamour, with taking the money and running, with sensational personal revenge plots, with opportunistic partnerships built on wealth-grabbing. Insofar as this is a genre exercise, that makes some sense… but right here, right now? As the super-rich chip away at democracy in order to increase their profits, led by lying swindlers who show no consideration of the consequences of their action, here’s a movie that celebrates people just like that.

Think about what could have been: What if this team had been imagined as catching the crooks rather than following in their familiar footsteps?

What if this had been a fun version of Michael Mann’s Heat, with supercool secret agents ensnaring high-tech thieves?

Considering the times, wouldn’t audiences have enjoyed seeing some swindlers, liars, and con-artists get caught and brought to justice? Isn’t that what most of us are dreaming about at night?

That might have done us some good.

What’s more, if studios wanted to revel in this movie’s moment, reimagining the machismo-overdose formula with an all-female cast, why not bring it to life through female imaginations? Why is Gary Ross making this movie at all? His work has never inspired the word visionary or innovative. His best-known works have been broad-stroke crowdpleasers. Why not bring in an artist of Soderbergh’s caliber, or better, who would make something that really seizes this moment and shakes it? Why not put a woman in charge?

A shame. Ocean’s 8 is a fun idea. But there’s Gene Siskel rule that applies here as well: Is the movie more entertaining than listening to these actors sit around a table and talk? How much more fun we would have if we’d spent 110 minutes listening to Rihanna and Awkwafina sit around and chat about… I don’t know, anything.

This script is so blandly predictable. I am not making this up: Thirty seconds before the movie’s big twist, my friend turns and tells me what it’s going to be. And he’s right. And I don’t mind it, because it’s an unremarkable twist.

Highlights? Well, I’m not going to lie: I’m a fan of every actress who has a role in this thing, and I’ll show up for even their disposable movies. I don’t mean to imply that Ocean’s 8 is a total waste of time. I’m surprised to find myself saying that Hathaway is the MVP. If there’s any real heist here, it’s her show-stealing turn. Hathaway’s given the most interesting moments to play — so much so, it’s hard not to feel that Ocean’s 8 was cast so that other A-list actresses could defend her against her haters. (If you don’t know about her haters, don’t bother investigating. People can be mean.)

But — and oh, how I hate to say this — Rihanna, the player I was most eager to see, the one with the most potential to break out and become a major actress after conquering the pop music and music video worlds, is given almost nothing interesting to do here. On crime dramas on screens big and small, the role of the hacker is one of the most routine. This was an opportunity to do something surprising. But the soft-spoken tech wizard Nine Ball doesn’t get to steal moments that should’ve been hers.

Maybe jewel heist movies are your thing. If so, I’d recommend that you revisit The Great Muppet Caper. Now there’s a fast-paced, funny, memorable movie about big fat diamonds! And it knows that the best of these genre exercises are all about stylistic invention and surprises.

This one? I have the receipt, so I know that I saw it today… but I’m struggling to recall any good lines, smart moments, or anything that gives the actors a chance to play a <i>scene</i>.  It already feels like a movie I saw two weeks ago. It feels like an endorsement of our most superficial impulses. It feels like I flipped through a fashion magazine.

It feels like a movie Ivanka would love.