Low rent gold
Late in the film a news announcer dubbed the racetrack robbers the "Ocean 7-11" and I can't think of a better term to describe the picture: basically a Steven Soderbergh-directed heist movie complete with large cast and intricate plan, done in a thick West Virginia accent and for a considerably smaller budget.
Or you can call this a smarter more overtly comic Hell or High Water--both films featuring a pair of brothers involved in criminal activities, both running on the long-smoldering coal of blue-collar resentment against The Powers that Be. David McKenzie was smart enough to direct that resentment against a ready target, the banks that caused the economic crisis in the first place (to be fair they deserve the anger) but the script he used (by Sicario's Taylor Sheridan) tended to stack the deck by making one brother (Chris Pine) adorable and morally faultless--or faultless enough that the audience isn't too bothered by any troubling implications.
Soderbergh wants to go that way--nearly all his characters are adorable--but has a problem: who plays the bad guy? Not NASCAR (or to be more specific the Charlotte Motor Speedway)--they're allowing Soderbergh rare access to their facilities. He fires a few satiric barbs at the prison guards and administrators, not to mention the FBI--but they mainly function as slow-witted obstacles the gang needs to evade or exploit to achieve their objective. Soderbergh (or his scriptwriter Rebecca Blunt who--rumor has it--is fictitious) has to manufacture one in the guise of Max Chilblain (Seth McFarlane sporting an English accent) as the owner of a power-drink company (his surname is the term for a skin condition). Unpleasant touch of xenophobia there--but that's all right (I suppose); Max is more of a jerk than a real villain.
The heist itself is as elaborate and carefully planned as you might wish for, with the added element that unlike Danny Ocean's crew none of the people involved (except maybe Daniel Craig's hilariously bleach-blonde Joe Bang, veteran safecracker, and his dim brothers) are career criminals, are in fact attempting this kind of caper for the first time...and their inexperience adds the spice of uncertainty to proceedings.
A thing of beauty possessed of the eccentric charm typical of any Rube Goldberg device. Soderbergh with the help of Peter Andrews and Mary Ann Bernard (usual Soderbergh pseudonyms) shoot and edit said thing with practiced precision; the broad accents and sweaty slapstick help keep the movie from becoming too precise--need to relax a little to have any real fun.
Not the first time this suggestion has been made but perhaps Soderbergh should stick to genre entertainments. His artier efforts lack energy and likability; his adaptation of Stanislaw Lem's Solaris for one is so solemn as to be soporific, and unlike Tarkovsky's version--not exactly a barrel of laughs either--lacks the visual poetry to hold one's interest. This though is like Goldilock's porridge: not too hot not too cold, the formulation and execution done exactly right.
First published in Businessworld 9.15.17