A film review by Craig J. Koban August 30, 2017


2017, PG-13, 119 mins.


Channing Tatum as Jimmy Logan  /  Adam Driver as Clyde Logan  /  Riley Keough as Mellie Logan  /  Daniel Craig as Joe Bang  /  Hilary Swank as Sarah Grayson  /  Seth MacFarlane as Max Chilblain  /  Katie Holmes as Bobbie Jo Logan Chapman  /  Katherine Waterston as Sylvia Harrison  /  Sebastian Stan as Dayton White  /  Brian Gleeson as Sam Bang  /  David Denman as Moody

Directed by Steven Soderbergh  /  Written by Rebecca Blunt




Steven Soderbergh publicly retired from directing films back in 2013 with his last feature being SIDE EFFECTS.   

Or...did he? 

Obvious sarcasm aside, the Oscar winning filmmaker eventually did soften up a tad on his then firm stance that he was going to actively stand down from making movies.  He made the HBO film BEHIND THE CANDELABRA and then worked on the small screen with THE KNICK.  Now comes the somewhat awfully titled LOGAN LUCKY (which sounds like a porn version of everyone's favorite Marvel Comics mutant hero), which has resurrected Soderbergh out of self-imposed retirement and back into a genre that he's intuitively familiar with - the heist flick.  Overwhelming sensations of been there, done that will, no doubt, overcome Soderbergh disciples while watching LOGAN LUCKY, especially considering that it bares more than a fleeting resemblance to OCEAN'S ELEVEN and its two sequels.   

Granted, the stakes for said heists in the OCEAN's films were decidedly higher and more glamorous, whereas LOGAN LUCKY deals with more blue collar country bumpkins that are looking to rob the Charlotte Motor Speedway during the Coca-Cola 600.  There are indeed times throughout this Southern fried film when Soderbergh seems to be trying to harness his madcap and zany inner Coen Brothers in the sense that he populate's his film with loveable dimwitted losers, but he nevertheless manages to make the overall effort uniquely his own with his characteristic smooth and focused direction.  LOGAN LUCKY, as a result, may just be Soderbergh's goofiest film on his resume, but he never allows it to be drowned in overt absurdity or southern stereotypes (even though there are ample amounts of both present).  It could be easily said that the material here - albeit with a change of scenery and characters - is no stretch for the filmmaker, but its efficient and capricious energy makes the overall effort a modest hoot to endure. 



At least Soderbergh dryly acknowledges in LOGAN LUCKY that OCEAN'S ELEVEN is indeed an inspiration (one news report of the film's central caper refers to the backwater hicks that perpetrated it as "Ocean's 7-Eleven).  Channing Tatum stars Jimmy Logan, a recently unemployed construction worker that decides to put everything on the line for robbing a vault at a North Carolina speedway during a NASCAR event.  He decides on this target based on the fact that he worked construction on the speedway, which has given him intimate knowledge of major access points and the comings of goings of key personal.  Realizing that the scope of robbing such a large target is remarkably daunting, Jimmy decides to enlist in the assistance of his one armed brother, Clyde (Adam Driver) and sister, Mellie (Riley Keogh).  Unfortunately for the trio, they soon understand that they're going to need a crackerjack locksmith to break into the massive vault, so they decide to recruit the very appropriately named Joe Bang (Daniel Craig)...with one big catch: he's currently in prison.  The foursome then hatches out a fairly ingenious plan to break Joe out of the slammer, use him during the heist, and then return him back to prison without anyone being none the wiser.  It's a labyrinthine scheme that would make Danny Ocean blush with envy.   

I don't want to relay too much more about Jimmy's plan, which would all but erode many of the sublime surprises of LOGAN LUCKY, other than to say that it's a hell of lot more clever than I was frankly expecting involving down-on-their-luck hillbillies.  With a script from first-time screenwriter Rebecca Blunt (a highly suspicious credit, seeing as Soderbergh has cheekily used pseudonyms for many of his past film's key crew participants), Soderbergh manages to keep us guessing even though he's clearly crafted a caper film that's comfortably within his aesthetic wheelhouse.  In many respects, Soderbergh peppers the film with classic country and rock tunes (one by John Denver in particular also serves as a surprisingly touching plot point and effective dramatic payoff late in the story).  There are instances when the characters that permeate LOGAN LUCKY seem to become cornball caricatures, and it's easy to detect an aura of slight mockery that Soderbergh has for them.  Yet, he never paints his personas as total red necked morons (even though some of them are), and aspects of their heist are fiendishly smart (even though some parts are kind of laughable).   

Take the character of Joe Bang, who superficially comes off as just as nonsensically absent minded as Jimmy and his cohorts.  Yet, this bleach blonde buzz cutt and tattoo obsessed hooligan/criminal has, in actuality, a fairly penetrating knowledge of advanced chemistry, which is employed during once facet of the robbery, albeit with some unexpected results.  Joe is indicative of LOGAN LUCKY's unwillingness to be wholly convention and the film instead throws subtle curveballs at viewers to constantly keep us off balance.  Plus, Daniel Craig's frequently gut-busting performance as this "in-car-cer-ated" demolitions experts is arguably the most joyously unhinged and unpredictable of the 007 actor's career.  It takes a special level of performance commitment and talent to segue from playing ultra suave British secret agents in one film to inhabiting someone as off-kiltered, socially uncoordinated, and ungainly as Joe.  Even though Craig's southern accent - much like his co-stars - gets a bit too obtrusively showy and obvious, his madcap dedication to the role is endlessly commendable; Craig has never been more rascally hysterical in a movie. 

Still, I only wished that the characters overall in LOGAN LUCKY were afforded a bit more well rounded depth (Tatum's Jimmy is perhaps the only one of the bunch that's afforded a satisfying personal arc).  One of the nagging issues with the film is that it frequently pops in some characters and introduces us to them early (like a nurse played by Katherine Waterston), only to then abandon them until very late in the picture to the point where we've literally forgotten that they were even in it.  Then there's some other seemingly last minute additions (like a determined FBI agent - in a horribly underwritten role - played by Hilary Swank) that are thrown in a little too arbitrarily and late for their own good.  This leads to one of the most glaring faults of LOGAN LUCKY, which is its inability to find a suitable ending.  Running at nearly two hours, the film is too bloated and stuffed and could have benefited from 15 or so minutes trimmed from it to become a breezier and more exemplary paced comedy.  The final act specifically drags on so badly that it inspires frequent watch checking and contains multiple points where Soderbergh could have easily provided story closure. 

And, yeah, maybe I'm somewhat disappointed to see someone of the likes of Soderbergh coming out of retirement to helm something that's not entirely a stretch for him.  Remove the southern flavor and substitute in NASCAR for Las Vegas casinos and LOGAN LUCKY is, for all intents and purposes, a wackier dumbed down version of OCEAN'S ELEVEN.  The pleasures to be had in LOGAN LUCKY mirror those of the many heists of Danny Ocean and his crew, but that doesn't preclude that this film isn't worthy of consumption.  It's a smartly assembled caper comedy about blue collar criminals that's as consummately assembled as any Soderbergh popcorn feature, and its cast overall seems uniformly focused on delivering well earned laughs at the expense of their characters' shenanigans.  Very few directors can orchestrate silver screen heists as entertainingly and stylishly as Soderbergh.  Even though LOGAN LUCKY operates a tad too much on autopilot for the acclaimed filmmaker, I'd rather see a phoned in Soderbergh effort than any half-hearted and soulless offering from a lesser director that's permeated the past summer film season; he's still someone I'd bet the house on for delivery. 

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