(2017—Director: Steven Soderbergh)
(out of 5 stars)
“Is it twenty or is it thirty? We are dealin’ with science here!” — Joe Bang (Daniel Craig) towards Jimmy Logan (Channing Tatum), who is unsure of the distance to the bank vault.
Potential spoilers below
Around the start of the 2017 summer blockbuster season, I saw a trailer that caught my attention at once. If you know me, you know that I prefer to care about a film only after I have seen it. I do this by staying as far away from a film’s marketing campaign as possible. Yet lately, I have made myself vulnerable to at least one or two film trailers per year as a personal experiment. I welcome with warmth the expectations to which I will compare with the film upon its release. (For 2016, it was Jackie, and I continue to rank its haunting teaser trailer among the best of its year and of the decade as well.) Logan Lucky’s trailer set me up for a thrilling and hilarious southern heist romp with probable awards contention, courtesy of Oscar-winning filmmaker Steven Soderbergh (returning from a four-year theatrical hiatus). While the actual film may not have met those expectations, it still excites and creates clever laughs. It trades the electrifying slickness of Soderbergh’s Ocean’s trilogy for pure southern charm and surprising restraint.
West Virginia divorcé Jimmy Logan (Channing Tatum, Magic Mike XXL, the upcoming Kingsman: The Golden Circle) works for a construction crew at the Charlotte Motor Speedway. When superiors notice Jimmy’s permanent limp from a leg injury that halted his promising football career, they lay him off, fearing possible injury liability. Worse yet, he will soon have less access to his daughter Sadie (Farrah Mackenzie) since his ex-wife Bobbi (Katie Holmes, Batman Begins, Woman in Gold) and her new husband and car salesman Moody (David Denman, Power Rangers, NBC’s The Office) are moving to Virginia with Sadie. Desperate to improve his situation, Jimmy teams up with his one-armed brother Clyde (Adam Driver, Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens, HBO’s Girls) and their sister Mellie (Riley Keough, Mad Max: Fury Road, It Comes at Night) to siphon cash from the speedway’s vault via its underground pipe system. They also recruit incarcerated demolition expert Joe Bang (Daniel Craig, Skyfall, Spectre) and his two, non-incarcerated brothers, Sam (Brian Gleeson, Snow White & the Huntsman, the upcoming Mother!) and Fish (Jack Quaid, The Hunger Games). Complications arise when a mix-up forces the team to execute the heist during the popular Coca-Cola 600 NASCAR race. This puts them in the sights of Sarah Grayson (Hilary Swank, Million Dollar Baby, Conviction), a relentless FBI special agent.
Logan Lucky is a dependable and thrilling, if rather by-the-book, heist film. Meeting its ambitions with hilarious flourish, it compensates its lack of knockout power for a handful of quirky narrative touches only director-cinematographer-editor Steven Soderbergh can provide. Its seasoned ensemble cast generates smart humor with their exaggerated North Carolina accents. A few stand out more than others. Even though Daniel Craig, for example, does not have enough screentime to steal scenes as often as, say, Robert Downey, Jr. or Tom Cruise in Tropic Thunder, a moment like his spontaneous chemistry lesson mid-heist reminds us of his range beyond his tenure as James Bond. Compared to Craig, his on-screen brothers Brian Gleeson and Jack Quaid amuse me more often with their accents that sound both over-the-top and genuine, even when they too lack enough screentime to stand out from the cast.
Elsewhere, Channing Tatum (who starred in the Soderbergh-directed Magic Mike and Side Effects, Soderbergh’s last theatrical release before his hiatus) and Adam Driver (sans left arm) anchor the film with their own heavy accents. Unfortunately, Logan Lucky makes little use of Katie Holmes, Katherine Waterston, Sebastian Stan, and Seth MacFarlane (with a Rick James wig and an accent that varies between British and Australian). With little notice, one can cut their scenes out of the film. Seeing those faces does not dilute the heist’s added complication of getting Craig and Driver’s characters out of and back into prison undetected. Still, cutting their scenes could have allowed more screentime for moments like Daniel Craig’s chemistry lesson and the Game of Thrones-centered ransom demands of the prisoners distracting their overseers from Craig and Driver’s absence (by far the film’s most tongue-in-cheek scene).
Logan Lucky may not be the phenomenal, awards-worthy splash to celebrate director Steven Soderbergh’s return from a four-year theatrical hiatus. Yet the general absence of strong heist cinema in the 2010s so far does help the film come across as a breath of fresh air. After all, its director gave us the Ocean’s trilogy during the last decade. Still further, it has given me what may go down as favorite trailer of 2017. Given his established talents, I would not mind one bit if Soderbergh set aside his retirement plans and chose to stay on the big and small screens for a little while longer.
(Parental Note: Logan Lucky has been rated PG-13 by the MPAA “for language and some crude comments.” It has also been rated 12A by the BBFC for “infrequent strong language, moderate violence” and A-III (Adults and older teens) by the Catholic News Service for “drug references and occasional profane and crude language.” The film revolves around characters planning and executing the robbery of a large amount of money without getting caught. A little girl plans on performing Rihanna’s song “Umbrella” at an upcoming pageant. Her step-brother then proudly interprets the song as a metaphor for a woman’s nether region. A man incites a brief, mostly off-screen bar fight while another sets a nearby vehicle ablaze during the scuffle. Any hand-to-hand combat results in mild facial bruises. A man winces while receiving a tetanus shot. There are a few small explosions and fires, none of which do any bodily harm. A man intentionally vomits a few times. Prisoners create and sustain a harmless prison riot as a distraction, going so far as to duct tape nearby guards to chairs (in a comedic way). Some alcohol consumption and smoking take place, mostly in public settings.)