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Quirky family values and familiar locations highlight 'Deidra & Laney Rob a Train'

Posted February 1

"DEIDRA & LANEY ROB A TRAIN" — 2½ stars — Ashleigh Murray, Rachel Crow, Tim Blake Nelson, David Sullivan; not rated, probable PG-13 rating for some profanity and comic violence; Sundance Film Festival

According to “Deidra & Laney Rob a Train,” a lighthearted caper featured at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival (and coming soon to Netflix), the family that steals together stays together.

Deidra (Ashleigh Murray) and Laney (Rachel Crow) are sisters in small-town Idaho, navigating the harsh waters of high school and hoping for better things on the horizon. Deidra is gunning for college and, according to her school’s ambitious guidance counselor Ms. Spencer (Sasheer Zamata), she’s one of the few students with a real shot at a higher education. For Laney, college is still a little ways off, and her present is filled with an unexpected nomination as a Miss Teen Idaho finalist.

The teens have a couple of full plates, but full turns to overflowing when their mother (Danielle Nicolet) suffers a meltdown at the local electronics store. In order to make Mom’s bail and keep the bills paid, shrewd Deidra comes up with an unorthodox plan: rob the shipping trains that regularly rattle their windows from the train tracks in their backyard.

Director Sydney Freeland gives “Deidra & Laney” a light tone and, aside from some PG-13 language, her caper lands in family-friendly territory. There’s a kind of innocent sweetness to the girls’ efforts, which initially leave them trying to fence innocuous items like laundry detergent and blue jeans before figuring out how to flag more valuable merchandise like cell phones. Deidra’s ex-boyfriend Jerry (Myko Olivier) provides her gateway to the criminal underworld, inasmuch as hocking items out of the trunk of a car in front of the local burger joint constitutes an underworld.

The girls are complemented by some familiar faces in the supporting cast, including Missi Pyle, who plays Laney’s crazy-eyed pageant coach, Mrs. Fowler, and Tim Blake Nelson, who plays a bumbling rail yard cop determined to bring the thieves to justice.

Eventually, the girls’ scheme incorporates their deadbeat father Chet (David Sullivan), who is quick to explain to everyone who will listen that he is a perfect father since he’s there when his family needs him and gone when they don’t. And even though she’s in jail, the driving moral force of the picture is provided by their mother, who gives “Deidra & Laney” its most heartfelt moment when she reveals the reasons for her first act meltdown.

Freeland’s effort features some fun elements, a premise with potential and a pair of appealing performances from its leads. It could use some help in the story department, though, as the film’s momentum periodically slows to a crawl and loses its way. With a little revision, “Deidra & Laney” could be a tight and worthy showpiece.

"Deidra & Laney Rob a Train" is not rated, but would have a probable PG-13 rating for some profanity and comic violence; running time: 92 minutes.

Joshua Terry is a freelance writer and photographer who appeared weekly on "The KJZZ Movie Show" from 2013 to 2016. He also teaches English composition for Weber State University. Find him online at facebook.com/joshterryreviews.

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