The first thing that happens in Logan Lucky is that Jimmy Logan (Channing Tatum) gets fired for having a pre-existing condition. Jimmy was a football star in times past, set to become a rich and famous athlete and make known the poor West Virginia coal-mining town from which he came. But Jimmy’s luck ran out. He blew a knee, and now he’s working construction, repairing the old pipes under a Nascar speedway in neighboring North Carolina. Well, he was. The boss has to let him go, you see, not because Jimmy isn’t good at his work, but because the company men found out about his knee injury and Jimmy didn’t disclose it on his paperwork. The liability of a pre-existing condition is just more risk than the company is willing to take when it comes to a replaceable construction worker like Jimmy Logan. You understand.
Jimmy does understand. He’s a Logan after all, and well acquainted with the Logan curse. They’re an unlucky bunch, yes sir, and for proof just pull up a stool at the bar run by Clyde Logan (Adam Driver), Jimmy’s brother, and he’ll tell you all about how the Logan family cannot catch a break. Clyde served two tour in Iraq, service that cost him his hand.
Jimmy’s string of bad luck continues after his blown knee and his firing, when he learns his ex (Katie Holmes) is moving out of state with their daughter. So Jimmy decides to get his brother and sister Mellie (Riley Keough) together, along with some other local law-breaking types, and do what every good guy who is A) in a bind, and B) in a Steven Soderbergh movie, would do: rob the speedway that fired him.
Logan Lucky, then, is a heist movie, set in the deep south, full of goofball characters and an economic populist heart. The job requires jail breaks and fast cars, low-tech explosives with high-falootin’ explanations. The story requires betrayals, switchbacks, redirects, rich pricks and poor schmoes, and a giant heaping of silliness.
That silliness is anchored with real emotion by Tatum and Driver, who take the lead in the heist plan and let the side players sink into the film’s kookiness. Seth McFarlane’s overblown rich prick, for example, waltzes into a southern country bar that has little interest in entertaining his douchebaggery. The result is both funny (McFarlane is, I reluctantly admit, funny as an asshole), realistic (needle-dropping in a bar you don’t belong in is a real and frightening thing), and emotionally unexpected (you’ll have to see it).
No one seems to be enjoying themselves more than Daniel Craig, who plays the explosives guy (everyone has a single job to play, as per usual), Joe Bang. Craig, a deft but overt screen presence, appears able to cut loose more in Logan Lucky than anything in recent memory, and his work as a result shines.
The screenplay by Rebecca Blunt is hyper-current in its jokes and references, but classically constructed in the vein of stylish and fun thieving pictures. Blunt has an ear for the southern dialogue and for popular entertainment, with some scenes diving into truly unexpected cultural riffs that are as hilarious as they are weird. Comparisons to the Ocean’s series are almost required by viewers, this being a stylish and fun thieving picture by Steven Soderbergh, and Logan Lucky lives up in every way to whichever Ocean’s might be your personal favorite.
The writing and acting pop with such pleasure because of Logan Lucky’s effortless direction behind the camera. That’s the average level of performance nowadays for Soderbergh, who is perhaps America’s least celebrated cinematic treasure. His excellence in craft is surpassed only by his restraint in showing off. He has the technical capacity of an arthouse nerd and the populist sensibility of Steven Spielberg. And, also like Spielberg, he’s usually doing both at the same time. Soberbergh is the kind of director that honors Adam Driver and Clyde Logan’s military service with exacting and honest photography of Clyde’s life and physicality, only to later linger on a Bubba Burger-sponsored parachutist carrying an American flag into the infield of a Speedway emblazoned with the Nascar logo. Both of these images land because parsing Americana is one of the interests of Logan Lucky, but Soderbergh makes even that theme enjoyable.
Honestly, that’s no surprise given the joie de vivre on display in every frame of this film. What sweet succor Logan Lucky is. How grateful we should be to have Steven Soderbergh, working quietly to bring popular entertainment that is this fun and this fine.
–Christopher Zumski Finke