“Deidra & Laney Rob a Train,” from director Sydney Freeland (“Drunktown’s Finest”) and screenwriter Shelby Farrell (“Vampire My Dear”), is the kind of movie that seems destined to be shown at 7:30 p.m. on the Disney channel. Starring Ashleigh Murray (“Riverdale”) as Deidra and Rachel Crow (“Invisible Sister”) as Laney, the film is an old-fashioned kids movie, albeit one that speaks to very current issues.
The story follows sisters Deidra and Laney, who are forced into a life of train robbery in order to make ends meet for their family after their mother is put in jail and given a large bail fee. Right from the opening scene, which features one of the sisters operating a business that answers other peoples’ homework, the audience immediately knows exactly what kind of movie they are watching. This is the kind of high school teen dramedy that should feel familiar to anyone who spent their childhood watching “Drake and Josh” or “Zoey 101.” The themes involving middle class poverty and the institutionalization of imprisonment feel more modern and compelling than the softer fare of old, but nothing is ever pushed too far so as to make the movie no longer suitable for children, the film’s clear target audience.
The film plays fast and loose with its sense of humor, with gags ranging from the well-executed title sequence to more standard kid fare that might give an adult a smile or two while the younger ones belly laugh. That being said, “Deidra & Laney Rob a Train” is not a film that can really be recommended to anyone who is above early teenage years unless said person is watching it with a younger companion.
Though “Deidra & Laney” clearly knows exactly what it is and never strives to be anything else, it’s hard to say whether or not it really adds much to the many options of family entertainment that are already out there. The characters of Deidra and Laney (Laney in particular) are certain to appeal to the sensibilities of teenagers who are dealing with similar issues, but the supporting cast is pretty forgettable, with most of them serving as little more then stock “villain,” “mother” and “sibling” characters that tend to populate these landscapes. In addition, the dialogue in the movie can become a bit tedious as it goes on, and audiences used to more mature fare might grow weary of the way these teens talk. With little advertisement on the Netflix home page, it will be interesting to see how much attention this movie gets, as someone would almost have to know to be looking for it in order to come across it on Netflix’s massive collection.
As part of Netflix’s continued foray into the film creation and distribution world, this feels like a fairly forgettable stepping-stone to bigger things. On the other hand, as more and more mid-range family films like this are squeezed out of the main studio system, it’s possible that Netflix may become the place where movies like this can continue to find their audience. Should this become the case, families of all kinds will get to continue enjoying the melodramatic zaniness of teen comedies like “Deidra & Laney Rob a Train” for years to come.