I didn't have high expectations for this movie. I found the "Oceans 11" series to be nothing more than pretentious vanity projects where A- list celebs get paid millions to portray "the cool guy who does X" instead of using their talents to make an entertaining film. It's like filming some guy's vacation (a la Adam Sandler).
But when I heard about this film's subversion of that series with imperfect characters and setting, I was intrigued. It was a mistake. I was not rewarded for going against my instincts.
First of all, there's absolutely no clear motivation for any of the film's actions to be taking place. Channing Tatum is fired for cause by someone not even affiliated with the race track. He's a veteran, yes, but an ex-con with an untrustworthy streak to him, even claiming to be "a Unabomber type." We have absolutely no reason to side with him, or his quest. One of the other characters even calls him on this, saying "what has NASCAR done to you?" then offers no response.
There's also no motivation among the rest of the cast. Aside from his brother, no one has any reason to help him - from Daniel Craig, who's just a couple months from getting out of prison, to the other prisoners who didn't even meet Tatum. Both are asked to assume tremendous risks for very little reward - a reward which, for the most part, is given back to the track. Likewise, Tatum has no reason to double-cross his crew, including the two slack-jawed comic relief characters who did most of the work. Tatum's chicanery was not at all endearing. I couldn't wait for the FBI to barge down his door at the very end.
The film tries way too hard to make Channing Tatum's character seem more clever than he appears with a last-minute "fake out" that reveals he's actually some kind of mastermind who planned an elaborate double-cross on his fellow criminals. There was absolutely no set-up to this reveal - in fact, the film goes out of its way to point out how unlucky Tatum and his brother are. This made clear that such a thing should not have been possible, and no event took place to indicate it could happen. Lazy writing. This movie commits the cardinal sin of feeling like a sequel to a film that never existed. We're assumed to know about the "Logan Curse," and other events we are told about instead of shown.
Other examples of sloppy writing abound. Two critical plot points that allow the heist to succeed are (1) that the warden of the local prison doesn't let anyone know about anything that happens at his prison, and (2) that the accountants at the Charlotte Motor Speedway keep really sloppy records of their cash input. Both of these facts are revealed after the fact, rather than built up beforehand. Yet the film backtracks near the end, making it seem like Tatum knew of these weaknesses and was able to take advantage.
This is an anemic, disjointed film, filled with pregnant pauses for laugh breaks for moments that aren't funny. Topping the list was an excruciatingly long scene that makes dated references to "Game of Thrones." Other jokes have no payoff. When Channing Tatum is told to bring his daughter to a tanning parlor, then takes a shortcut by using a paint sprayer loaded with spray-on tan, nothing comes of it. The mother doesn't notice, and moves along with taking her to a pageant. Seth MacFarlane is terrible in this, but since that's not all that surprising, I can hardly fault the film for that.
That said, there are moments of unintentional hilarity. For example, the same exact establishing shot of the "West Virginia" road sign was used so much that it felt like a joke. The last time was on a dark night where you could only see its outline.
However, this remarkable film even manages to ruin these moments. Hillary Swank's sudden appearance in the third act drags the film another 20 minutes past its natural conclusion. Her stoic performance as an FBI agent is so wooden that it's actually quite funny. Her summary of the movie's events as she speaks with her fellow agents was the only time I laughed. But even this is screwed up at the very end, where it's implied that Swank had some role in the robbery. It's also implied well after the fact that a health- conscious race car driver, featured in another of the film's too many subplots, had a role as well. This gave the film a distinct "first draft" feel to it, as if it script writer thought of it in the final few paragraphs.
Also, who ever heard of a heist film about racing - or at least a race track - without a car chase? I didn't until I saw this. There's a wonderful set-up where a side character is mocked for not knowing how to drive stick, so he gets a manual Mustang. The car is used in the heist, which involves a one-armed man. Nothing comes of this, however, as yet another side-character with no personality drives the car to the heist without a single obstacle. We're even told not to get our hopes up - there aren't any cops there to chase them. Way to go, movie.
Thank goodness there were some surprising cameos from NASCAR drivers in the second act, otherwise those two hours would have been a complete waste. Both movie fans and racing fans will leave the theater equally disappointed.