Steven Soderbergh makes his big screen “comeback” a caper comedy that characters within it dismiss as “Oceans 7-11.”
He’s got his “Magic Mike” in the lead, with 2015’s hot ticket Adam Driver, an Elvis grand-daughter, a country singer, a James Bond and an Oscar winner in the cast, most of them sporting West Virginia accents so thick you can cut’em with a chainsaw.
And the damned thing doesn’t play. The rube jokes fall flat, the complex caper doesn’t skate by the way the best of the “Oceans” pictures did.
It’s as if the only research they did was listen to John Denver’s “Country Roads” a few times, and smugly reassure each other — “We’re good.”
It’s “Masterminds” meets “Little Miss Sunshine,” with a heaping helping of Coen Brothers “Burn After Reading” contempt for its characters — every character, about whom the phrase “ignorant rural white trash” is never uttered, but implied.
Channing Tatum is Jimmy Logan, a newly-laid-off construction worker, the one-time jock stuck in Blue Collar hell trying to be a good dad to his little girl, brushing off the married-up the financial ladder ex-wife (Katie Holmes).
His trashy, camo mini-skirted hairdresser sister (Riley Keough) dotes on his little girl and supports whatever he does. His one-armed veteran brother (Driver) serves drinks at the Duct Tape Bar and has this fatalistic view of the family’s “luck,” which means he just shrugs his way on board Jimmy’s scheme to solve their money troubles.
They’re going to knock over a NASCAR track, the Charlotte Motor Speedway, where Jimmy used to work. But they’ll need safe-cracking help. Trouble is, Joe Bang (Daniel Craig) is in stir — and won’t be out of prison for months. How can he help, will he help, when he’s got so little time left in Warden Burns’ (Dwight Yoakam) jail?
“You Logans must be as simple-minded as people say.”
What’s most impressive here isn’t the multi-element, multi-hillbilly heist — sort of half set-up, mostly revealed as the caper happens. It isn’t the enviable cast, which dives into Southern accents the way a century of ill-informed actors have tackled them — like Elizabethan English.
“Do you hear the words comin’ outta your mouth?” Words like “in-CAR-Ser-RATED” kind of punch you in the ears.
The “local color” — an apple-bobbing contest involving pigs feet — leaves something to be desired.
No, the impressive thing is that Soderbergh was able to attract this cast and a raft of permissions from the control-freaks at NASCAR to make a movie this tin-eared, this cumbersome, this condescending, this bad.
The women are passive observers/participants, even after Hilary Swank is added to their ranks, showing up as a Fed investigating the heist after it’s over.
There are clever flourishes — breaking Joe Bang out of jail for the robbery, him taking the time to explain the chemistry of an explosive he’s about to use with chalk on a wall on a tunnel beneath the speedway.
But there are all these dead-ends — Seth MacFarlane as an obnoxious British-accented sports-drink mogul, the Bang relatives/accomplices whose every sentence requires subtitles. There’s little narrative drive, with the caper lurching forward, stopping, and the movie going on and on after that’s wrapped up. The sentimental finale is a “Country Roads” cheat.
Tatum makes a passive leading man here and doesn’t so much drive the story– he writes a list of robbery “do’s and don’t” that includes “Don’t Get Greedy” on his fridge — as we slouch along for the ride. And the deadpan Driver stands out in the cast, sort of a cracker caricature of Nicolas Cage’s hero in “Raising Arizona.” He’s dreadful.
At least Craig is a hoot, even if one suspects that he saw the clunky finished product and realized that signing up for another James Bond picture was a safer bet than gambling again on a director trying to send-up the movies that made him rich — a director who has forgotten that those movies — whose characters he didn’t sneer at — were already send-ups themselves.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for language and some crude comments
Cast: Channing Tatum, Daniel Craig, Hilary Swank, Katie Holmes, Adam Driver, Riley Keough, Dwight Yoakum
Credits:Directed by Steven Soderbergh, script by Rebecca Blunt. A FilmNation release.
Running time: 1:59