Say what you will about Steven Soderbergh — he isn’t afraid to experiment. While other directors may find themselves a nice comfortable niche to operate in, Soderbergh likes to experiment, to try new ideas and see where they take him. Sometimes that means creative misfires, but sometimes it can mean Haywire or The Informant!, so all in all it’s worth the risk. All that having been said, the man has a knack for charming heist movies (the latter two Ocean’s movies notwithstanding), so what better way to get back into the directing game after a brief retirement than to return to an old haunt? However, while the Ocean’s movie where all about style, class and snappy suits, Soderberg’s return, Logan Lucky, skews somewhat in the other direction while still playing within the heist movie sandbox.
To call Logan Lucky a deep-fried Ocean’s movie may be a slight over-simplification….but only a slight one. Rather than a collection of smooth-talking rogues, our heroes this time are the Logan brothers, a pair of affable Southerners who hatch a plot to rob the Charlotte Motor Speedway during a major NASCAR event. The two recruit an incarcerated demolitions expert and his two hapless brothers, and it’s literally and figuratively off to the races.
Logan Lucky enthusiastically steeps itself in Southern culture, and to fun effect. NASCAR, child beauty pageants, breathless recitals of the national anthem, the song “Country Road” — virtually every Southern-ism one could hope for is crammed into the film’s two-hour run time. To put it mildly, it’s a really, really white movie, but what makes that work is how the film neither condescends to this culture nor worships it. The laughs never come at the expense of the characters, and we aren’t meant to be looking down on them, mockingly laughing at their haplessness. By the same coin, the film also never falls into the trap of placing them on a pedestal of blue-collar nobility, like romanticized ideals of the hardworking American middle class. The characters consistently feel like people, rarely if ever straying into archetype. Soderbergh clearly loves Southern culture, even if he’s more than aware of how ridiculous it can be.
Once you get below that layer of Southern America trappings, Logan Lucky more or less has the same bones as most heist films, Soderbergh-directed or otherwise. We’re introduced to our cast of quirky characters, we learn to hate the baddies and root for their downfall, and we see the plan take shape as we’re fed tiny bits so that the ultimate structure remains a surprise, keeping us in suspense along with the usual hitches and hiccups. The dialogue is snappy and witty, and it moves at a brisk enough pace to never get bogged down or boring. If the film breaks from the expected formula anywhere, it’s the amount of time it spends post-heist, even introducing a few new characters in the final stretch of the film.
Just like any Ocean’s movie, Logan Lucky has an abundance of talent under the hood, not the least of which is Channing Tatum in the lead role as Jimmy Logan, the more proactive of the two Logan brothers. If any doubts remain in your mind that Tatum has come into his own as a leading man after his early days in the Jai Courtney Zone, let Logan Lucky dispel them for you. Adam Driver is more or less in the passenger seat at Jimmy’s brother Clyde, but still brings a quiet charisma to the role. The standout is unquestionably Daniel Craig as ballistic safecracker Joe Bang. If the last few bond films have made you forget what Daniel Craig looks like when he’s having fun in a role, his turn in Logan Lucky should remind you. Seth MacFarlane has a small, largely unimportant role as a mouthy British energy drink mogul, and if you’re completely unsurprised that MacFarlane would be good at playing a mouthy jackass, welcome to the club.
Logan Lucky is the kind of film that almost guarantees a fun time out at the movies, unless a film predominantly focused on the American South and all of its trappings doesn’t sound appealing to you. But for everyone else, it’s the kind of film perfectly suited for the ramp-down after summer movie season: fun, effortless and eminently palatable. Never leave us again, Steven.