Channing Tatum, Adam Driver, Riley Keough and Daniel Craig star in a NASCA- centric heist caper.
How lucky are we? I suppose that depends upon how you feel about the work of director Steven Soderbergh.
One of the most deliberately eclectic and diverse filmmakers in the history of Hollywood, Soderbergh has seen fit to shift gears abruptly from mainstream big-budget potboiler (Ocean's 11, Haywire, King of the Hill, Out of Sight) to artsy fartsy experimental throughout his entire career (Schizopolis, Bubble, Full Frontal), letting the two blend occasionally, just to keep things even more interesting (Magic Mike, Traffic, The Limey).
Since his 1989 indie film world sensation sex, lies and videotape, he's never stopped. Even his much ballyhooed retirement from feature filmmaking resulted in him directing every episode of two seasons of the turn of the century medical television series, The Knick.
Now, he's back to the big screen with Logan Lucky, a strange blend of all of the above categories, lumping it in with, say, Contagion. Entirely set in the North Carolina NASCAR milieu, the film tells the story of a few dejected blue collar brothers and the heist they implement. Their plan is to rob a local NASCAR event. Due to a scheduling snafu, they must implement their plan during the biggest race of the year.
Logan Lucky is an odd duck of a film. It exhibits the carefree vibe and patter of a comedy on its surface without actually being all that funny. It is also very much a robbery procedural, displaying procedure after procedure, without proceeding to actually explain The Plan. And The Plan, as layered and convoluted as it's revealed to be, is the true star of the film. (You'll never get a SAG card, Plan!)
Lots of movie stars are running around in this rural backwoods, that's for sure. Channing Tatum and Adam Driver are the brothers, a pair of down and out all-American boys who, like so many, got a raw deal from life. Or, more to the point, from their own country.
Tatum's character, Jimmy, loses his job in a circumstance that good Union representation could likely overturn, but instead, apparently doesn't exist here. His brother Clyde (Driver) lost his forearm serving in the military overseas. He wears a prosthetic, the source of several memorably awkward moments. Because of the shots with missing arm, Logan Lucky has a visual effects crew.
Riley Keough is Jimmy's intuitive gal, Mellie, a hairdresser who appears to get her wardrobe tips from Erin Brockovich. Without her, The Plan would be a wash. Then there's Joe Bang, an aging bleach blonde prison inmate with Naugahyde skin, tattoos, and a wealth of experience on explosives.
A big part The Plan is to bust him out to assist with making a bomb, then sneak him back in so that no one knows he was a party to this scheme. He's played by a scene stealing Daniel Craig, looking thrilled to be as far from 007 prison as possible - even if it means filming in an actual prison.
Then there are a pair of yahoos played by Brian Gleeson and Jack Quaid, just a couple of knuckeheaded yokels who think they’ve got everything figured out. They’re a pretty funny duo, and probably not to be trusted, but what’re you gonna do? They’re a necessary part of the plan.
Just above them in the intellectual food chain is a pair of late arrivals, cocksure FBI agents played by Hilary Swank and Macon Blair. They stroll in like they own the place, occupying much of the film’s third act in a stretch of time when if honestly feels like the movie ought to be over by then. It doesn’t help that this may be the single worst performance by Swank she’s ever committed to film. not that the character has any depth, but there’s something immediately and persistently insufferable about whatever she’s doing here.
Also in the mix are Katherine Waterston, Katie Holmes, Seth MacFarlane, Sebastian Stan, Dwight Yoakam, and LeAnn Rimes as herself, singing “The Star-Spangled Banner.” It’s a curious celebrity mishmash, to be sure. It’s as though Soderbergh threw a huge end-of-retirement party, and invited all his new friends but none his old ones. I hope they like loud cars, prison cafeterias and pneumatic tubes. (An essential aspect of The Plan.)
Written by Rebecca Blunt, a first time screenwriter strongly suspected of not being a real person (what is this, the writer’s strike again?), Logan Lucky is an obvious Coen Brothers-style attempt by the jet-setting Soderbergh, known for his “limousine liberal” buddies, to “get down with the people.” The whole movie is, in that regard, one of the clearest post-Trump pieces of work in a while, however humanizing and “even handed” it’s portending to be.
It must be said that it would be completely understandable for one from the area the film depicts to feel condescended to. That said, this critics strongly suspects that amid the NASCAR and the prison and the gaudy little girl beauty pageant presented without judgement, that those folks in particular might just feel a true kinship to the plights of these characters.
Perhaps more of an irresistible experiment for Soderbergh and company -- “Ocean’s 7-11,” they call it -- Logan Lucky is nonetheless a decently satisfying yarn, even with its agenda. It’s a working class heist picture with it’s heart ultimately in the right place as it looks to give faces to the forgotten and overlooked, even as they’ve been grotesquely taken advantage of in the last election cycle.
How lucky are we to have Logan Lucky? Your milage may vary, but it’s nevertheless nice to have Soderbergh back in the race.