A coming-of-age tale tying together family and trafficking, Deidra & Laney Rob a Train opens on the titular sisters’ mom (Danielle Nicolet) having a nervous breakdown in front of the electronics store where she works. She is promptly put in jail for vandalizing store property, and now it’s on elder sister Deidra’s shoulders to support her younger sister, Laney (Rachel Crow), and brother Jet (Lance Gray).
In this small Idaho town, there is not a lot of opportunity, even for prospective class valedictorian Deidra (Ashleigh Murray). Already earning illicit income writing papers for classmates and selling test answers, Deidra is willing to do anything it takes. She just has to find her cash cow. The answer, it turns out, has been right in front of her the whole time: the railroad that cuts through town. Deidra conducts research on how one could potentially rob a cargo train, and she brings her sister Laney into the operation.
If you’re expecting a morality tale about breaking the law to provide for one’s family, think again. Another filmmaker would have portrayed Deidra and Laney as sympathetic characters, who, no doubt at the end, will learn a life lesson. However, director Sydney Freeland (Drunktown’s Finest) takes another route, a kids’ version of Breaking Bad, if you will.
This is a small Rust Belt town where everyone is destitute. When Deidra goes to her ex-boyfriend and asks him to help her move the stolen merchandise, he eagerly jumps on board with the scheme. The high school guidance counselor doesn’t even bat an eyelash when she finds out about the sisters’ newfound extracurricular activity. Nor does the children’s father, the lovable deadbeat played by David Sullivan. Practically everyone in the town is involved in some way or another in helping the sisters’ contraband business because they all need the cheap goods. The only person who’s not in on the scheme is an investigator, played by Tim Blake Nelson, sadly phoning in his performance.
Nelson is one of three recognizable actors who turn up. Character actress Missi Pyle plays the teacher who allows Laney to go out for a beauty pageant, and former NYPD Blue star Sharon Lawrence also shows up for a couple scenes.
Up-and-coming indie director Freeland’s film hits a few good marks, but mostly misses. Sometimes the physical comedy is a little too forced, yet the more inventive moments are fun to watch, such as the title sequence that reveals the film’s title through images already in the shot, like name tags and letters on clothing. Brooke Markham is especially entertaining as Laney’s pageant rival, which is a bit of a pity because she’s more dynamic Laney herself.
The script is amateurish, though, leaving a lot unexplained, such as how can Deidra’s ex just take money out of the restaurant cash register to give her for the contraband? Important details like that are left out, suggesting the filmmakers value quirkiness over plausibility. Sometimes cuteness isn’t enough to go on, and Deidra & Laney Rob a Train doesn’t quite make it all the way up the hill.