A gang of losers plots to rob a NASCAR racetrack on one of its busiest weekends, and they do it in a hackneyed way that makes absolutely no sense. Steven Soderbergh comes out of retirement to direct Channing Tatum as Jimmy Logan, a former football player who has fallen on bad times, then suddenly gets it in his head to rob the racetrack in a way that involves sneaking people out of prison, blowing things up with gummy bears, and secret allies within the establishment. Soderbergh did the Ocean’s Eleven movies, the first of which has a reasonably fun and inventive heist. This one is sort of Ocean’s Eleven for rednecks, and their ability to pull off the heist is totally unconvincing. The film is almost saved by some of the supporting performances, including Daniel Craig as an incarcerated safe cracker who digs hard boiled eggs, and Adam Driver as Jimmy’s one-armed brother. But, for every character that’s a plus, there’s a lame one like Seth MacFarlane’s heavily accented millionaire that’s not as funny as he thinks he is. The movie doesn’t come together in the end, and its robbery scheme is too cute to be realistic. The big reveal feels like a cheat rather than a unique twist. It’s good to have Soderbergh back in action, but this is just a rehash of something he’s done before with a Southern accent. Hilary Swank shows up in the final act, a role that feels entirely tacked on. It’s much ado about nothing. There are a few laughs, but not enough to justify seeing it in theaters.
3 Annabelle: Creation
Annabelle, the creepy doll from The Conjuring movies, gets her second standalone film with Annabelle: Creation, a silly movie that’s nevertheless enjoyable thanks to some deft direction and surprisingly competent acting. The movie essentially holds together thanks to solid performances from Talitha Bateman and Lulu Wilson, the latter being the same child actress who gave incredible work in the also surprisingly good prequel/sequel to a so-so movie, Ouija: Origin of Evil. Mind you, the film is full of good performances from the likes of Miranda Otto, Anthony LaPaglia and Stephanie Sigman, but it’s Bateman and Wilson who get most of the credit for pulling this off in front of the camera. The film is set many years before the first Annabelle movie, with orphans Janice (Bateman) and Linda (Wilson) on their way to a new home, a group of other girls and happy nun Sister Charlotte (Sigman) at their side. Once at their new home, the doll is discovered, and the resulting playtime totally sucks ass. Last year, director David F. Sandberg delivered a decent genre film with Lights Out, based on his terrifically scary short film. (Talitha’s younger brother, Martin Bateman, starred in that one.) Sandberg continues to show he’s good with a jolt scare; there are many moments in this movie when you expect one, and it still jolts you. He also makes good-looking movies. The authentic Southern Gothic look of this film lends to its credibility and keeps you in the story.
Eccentric comedic actor Brett Gelman gets a much deserved starring vehicle as Isaac, a theater teacher going through some troubles with his girlfriend (Judy Greer). She starts getting antsy, and his behavior gets weirder and weirder, especially when it comes to student Alex (a very funny Michael Cera). Let’s just say things don’t go well when Alex comes over to hang out, and that occurrence is one of the more normal ones in Isaac’s life. As his relationship and acting career—he’s the spokesman for Hep C—crumble, he tries to date others, and that ends with him escaping a party with his date’s grandma (again … Isaac is weird). The film meanders a bit, and never has a true sense of purpose. Somehow, it all works just fine. Director Janicza Bravo, who co-wrote the script with Gelman, makes an impressively strange directorial debut, thanks in large part to Gelman being her star. Gelman is one of those character actors who basically shows up in everything, cracks you up, and yet you never remember his name. Maybe now we will start to remember him, because he’s been kicking mortal comedy ass for years. Supporting cast includes Jeff Garlin, Megan Mullally and Gillian Jacobs, who costarred with Gelman earlier this year on Netflix’s Love. Available for digital download rent on Amazon.com and iTunes during a limited theatrical run.