Following a four year stint in “retirement”, American auteur Steven Soderbergh returns to the multiplexes with the kind of snappy, crowd-pleasing, whizzbang fare that throttled him from indie delight to box office superstar. Assembling a sublimely cast trio of Magic Mike (Channing Tatum), Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and Bond, James Bond (Daniel Craig) in a delightful supporting role, Logan Lucky, much like the film that rocketed Soderbergh to success (Ocean’s Eleven), rides on the back of its stars’ natural well of charisma as well as a pithy screenplay (courtesy of maybe pseudonym Rebecca Blunt) that constantly waffles between sly, chuckle-inducing commentary and witty narrative sleight of hand.
Tatum, Soderbergh’s likely new muse, is the film’s down-on-his-luck protagonist, a somewhat deadbeat dad suffering the downstream of a long-standing family curse. A laborer with a limp struggling to keep up with his bills, including a child support payment to baby mama ex-wife Katie Holmes, Tatum’s Jimmy Logan finds himself out of work when his boss (Jim O’Heir) catches wind of a pre-existing condition, the ultimate American shortcoming. What follows is Trump-Era escapism; a rural revenge adventure that celebrates criminality, harkens back to the days when southern characters had a substantial place in Hollywood, and slyly comments on the modern political clusterfuck, while also remaining tonally breezy and narratively twist-driven enough to entertain on pure surface value. Inside Jimmy’s sty, a vision board detailing the ten steps to a successful robbery is affixed to a fridge, hung like grade-school homework. Just as “You don’t talk about Fight Club” demands reiteration on Tyler Durden’s in-house rules, Jimmy’s ten step criterion features various iterations of “Know when to walk away”. Trouble is, Jimmy has a limp.
Waffling between North Carolina and West Virginia locales, Logan Lucky harkens back to the country cinema of the 70s, crafting beatnik redneck heroes, criminals without a cause, lovable in their lawlessness; part gleeful caricature, part romanticized American tropes, all southern charm. The score in question involves a NASCAR heist, the perfect mark for the men and women trapped in the economic despair of the flyovers. Another complex of unchecked commercialism, the racetrack becomes Logan’s white trash equivalent of Ocean’s gilded Las Vegas casinos. An ironic twist has the target accessed through the very job site that left Jimmy jobless in the first place.
As Jimmy sets his sights and narrows his plan, the elder Logan sibling recruits younger brother Clyde (Driver), a veteran barkeep with a missing appendage, and hairdresser sister Mellie (Riley Keough), an underwritten female addition in a film unfortunately full of underwritten female additions, to the cause.
In need of a pyrotechnics expert, the Logan crew enlists the incarcerated Joe Bang (Craig), a painstaking recruit that involves an intentional prison sentencing and a series of perfectly orchestrated break-outs and break-in of a lazily run state penitentiary. As Bang, Craig seems to finally be having fun in front of the camera again. He oozes with scuzzy charm, cocksure in his skeezy hijinx, sweet-talking nurses and running his motormouth to his lawbreaking compatriots. Blunt’s southern comfort dialogue flows savory from Craig, easy as molasses and just as sweet, giving us one of Craig’s finest on-screen performances to date and one of 2017’s best supporting characters.
As can be expected with a Soderbergh picture, the film has a fierce command over pop culture, past and present, and here Logan Lucky finds some of its best material. From a butchered Jon Denver song to a running Game of Thrones-centered gag sure to make anyone familiar with Starks, Targaryens and Lannisters squeal with joy, Logan Lucky thrives on needling audiences into in-joke grins, a skill likely to cover up some of its more egregious missteps.
Throughout Logan Lucky, Blunt’s screenplay asks us to believe the unbelievable – that first-time criminals can orchestrate a multi-layered master heist without the slightest wind of a real hitch, that max security prisons can be used like revolving doors with just the right amount of elbow grease and flirtation, that the security team responsible for countless millions in a knowingly unsecured vault are no more skilled than Barney Fife. As was the case with Ocean’s Eleven, Logan Lucky tail end uses a rewind to reveal various layers of deception but the trickery is at best mildly convincing and at worst contrived. In short, there’s a lot of slop to Logan’s rock.
Also working against the film, Seth MacFarlane makes too many appearances as a hyped-up energy drink mascot (he could have been removed entirely, to the benefit of the film), Katherine Waterston’s nurse/love interest is underdeveloped to the point of being completely and utterly unnecessarily and I’m not convinced that the late stage arrival of Hilary Swank’s special agent Sarah Grayson really works in terms of keeping the narrative self-contained (her role seems a pretty obvious set-up for future Logan installments, a dedicated future foil). But there’s so much going for Logan Lucky, it’s so bubbly and fun and effortlessly funny, that it’s almost impossible not to dismiss the various plot holes and inconsistencies, its flagrant sidelining of female characters and its sloppy cliffhanger of an ending, that you’re somehow still willing to kick back and enjoy the ride. I guess that might be why 75 million Americans voluntarily watch NASCAR.
CONCLUSION: Ocean’s Eleven by way of Ricky Bobby, ‘Logan Lucky’ is a splashy, snappy, scrumptious heist flick super-powered by a rambunctious cast and Steven Soderbergh’s poppy direction. While the stacked-up scheming may not entirely add up and there’s more than one woefully underwritten character scurrying around, the sheer nonstop fun of Soderbergh’s rollicking expedition more than qualifies as a worthy comeback.