Cast: Channing Tatum, Adam Driver, Riley Keough, Daniel Craig, Katie Holmes, Seth MacFarlane, Jack Quaid, Brian Gleeson, Katherine Waterston, Dwight Yoakam, Hilary Swank
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Running time: 2 hours
by Jericho Cerrona
Writer-director Steven Soderbergh has a distinct knack for the "the hang out" movie genre, wherein theme and narrative is filtered through the prism of characterization and setting. With the Ocean series, there's the inherent thrill of planning and executing the perfect heist, but Soderbergh's real aim seemed to be simply getting a group of A-list actors together in order to preen and riff. Meanwhile, the true crime story The Informat! has the veneer of a biographical thriller, but instead plays out like an absurdist satire where we learn, rather uncomfortably, what it's like to be trapped inside the deranged mind of the central figure. Even his underrated 1995 crime noir The Underneath has a crafty heist plot, but Soderbergh inverts such tropes to offer a commentary on fragile male ego, wrapped in arty color schemes and fractured editing. Ultimately, his work is nearly always obsessed with milieu and character rather than standard narrative beats, and his latest post-retirement lark, Logan Lucky, is no exception.
Taking place in Boone County, West Virginia and following the dimwitted Logan brothers Jimmy and Clyde (Channing Tatum and Adam Driver, respectively), Logan Lucky is yet another Soderbergh romp which uses genre machinations in order to spend time with a very specific community. Jimmy is a former football star turned miner who, as the film opens, is laid off for having a limp, while Clyde is an Iraq war veteran working as a bartender who is constantly teased for having a mechanical hand. Jimmy has a hairdresser sister, Mellie (Riley Keough) and a stubborn ex-wife Bobbie Jo (Katie Holmes), but he's mostly interested in the big score. After a series of leisurely paced scenes introducing the various hillbilly characters populating Boone County, the brothers enlist notorious bank safe cracker Joe Bang (Daniel Craig, sporting bleached blonde hair and an appetite for hardboiled eggs) whom they bust out of prison, to pull a heist snatching cash from a vault buried in the Charlotte Motor Speedway. What follows is a breezy, absurd lark with affable performances and a genuine sense of place.
It's clear that Soderbergh and screenwriter Rebecca Blunt (an Allen Smithee-esque pseudonym) have genuine affection for these hick heist members, and rather lean into mean-spirited farce (the film is full of bad tattoos, fast cars, southern drawls, and beer-chugging American iconography), Logan Lucky actually makes a case that these are real people existing in a pocket of the country Hollywood usually mocks. The actual intricacies of the heist itself are ludicrous--cockroaches, car dealers, a discarded cake, prison riots, and combustible gummy bears make the rounds here--but Soderbergh's self-aware filmmaking craftsmanship and the mostly game cast means that the film never takes process too seriously, but instead, leans more firmly into personality as its selling point.
To this end, the film's two best performances come from Driver (channeling Tim Blake Nelson) as Clyde Logan and Keough as the hairdresser with a sharp tongue and knack for painting cockroaches. Meanwhile, Tatum's low-key charisma keeps us guessing as to just how smart or dumb Jimmy really is, but everyone onscreen is nearly upstaged by Craig who, perhaps as a response to recent James Bond malaise, is fully committed to his particular brand of hillbilly quirk as Joe Bang. It's an amusing bit of stunt casting and Craig certainly feels rejuvenated in the role, but his performance does verge into caricature at times. However, such antics are understated when compared to Seth MacFarlane's insufferable mugging as a Nascar energy drink buffoon. Adopting a loopy British accent and wearing a Jheri curl while engaging in bar fights, MacFarlane feels like he belongs on the cutting room floor of Talladega Nights, and that's obviously not a compliment.
In keeping with the Soderbergh's hang out vibe, Logan Lucky eventually unravels it's plot and sticks around in order to fill us in on where all the characters ended up post-heist. By the time Hilary Swank shows up as an F.B.I. investigator attempting to make sense of the fallout, the film seems to be stalling in order to further complicate the criminal's motives, but the results have the tinge of anti-climax. Either way, it's nice to have Soderbergh back (as if he even really went anywhere) and though it would have been nice to see him outside his comfort zone a bit, there's still something reassuring about watching him riff, southern style.