Logan Lucky is a movie absorbed in its own quirkiness, a redneck spin on a traditional heist movie that left me somewhat baffled that this is what director Steven Soderbergh came out of his self-imposed retirement to make. Admittedly, it has only been four years since his last theatrical feature, and he’s spent the interim years working extensively on TV, and as a cinematographer under different pseudonyms. This is likely why Logan Lucky doesn’t have the monumental stature of a “comeback” movie- instead, it’s business as usual, only innovating the formula of his Ocean’s trilogy by giving it a hillbilly twist. It’s undemanding entertainment, albeit one that falls apart due to an awkward structure, cringeworthy accents from the entire ensemble, and a number of unengaging subplots.
Logan Lucky; dir.: Steven Soderbergh; USA 2017, 118 minutes. ★★½/5
Channing Tatum stars as Jimmy Logan, a blue collar construction worker let go from his current job due to health and safety regulations regarding a leg injury. His personal life is equally in tatters, as his ex-wife (Katie Holmes) is planning on moving across state lines, making it harder for Jimmy to visit his daughter. After an altercation with a pompous British NasCar team owner (Seth Macfarlane), Jimmy’s brother, Iraq war veteran Clyde (Adam Driver), is told about Jimmy’s new get rich quick scheme- conducting a heist on a nearby Nascar speedway during a busy Memorial Day race. To pull this off, they enlist the help of self styled pyrotechnics expert Joe Bang (Daniel Craig). The only issue? They need to break him out of jail first.
Soderbergh is usually gifted with fine ensemble casts, and Logan Lucky is no different. The only difference this time is that his cast are wrestling with characters that they struggle to make more than just mere stereotypes- even though the screenplay itself takes great pride in subverting long-held prejudices about blue collar workers in America’s south. There is a frequent dissonance between the screenplay (penned by Soderbergh under the alias of Rebecca Blunt), which aims to show the humanity and intelligence behind a demographic largely assumed by outsiders to be backwards Trump voters, and the performances themselves, which are all defined by overly exaggerated accents.
Adam Driver’s character, for example, is a disabled war veteran, who agrees to help out with the elaborate plot (which involves him being sent to jail) to help rescue his brother from his current economic situation. Yet Driver, who elsewhere has proven to be one of the finest screen presences working today, still plays the character like the stereotypical bumbling hillbilly that does nothing to challenge our pre-conceptions. There’s a noticeable inauthenticity to his accent, like somebody doing an impression of a redneck at a party, that proves increasingly grating. Hearing him repeat an elongated pronunciation of the word “cauliflower” is one of the most ear scraping moments of cinema in 2017.
Weirdly enough, the film’s actual overblown comic sidekick is comparatively subtle. Joe Bang, played by Daniel Craig, is a ridiculous character- yet Craig only leans in slightly to the character’s ludicrousness, embedding him with a genuine empathy as the film goes on that is underserved by the increased emotional manipulation elsewhere in the story. In a film of utterly silly accents, Craig’s attempt at a southern drawl is somehow the least distracting. That the most unrealistic character on paper is the most believable in the context of the film itself is a clear signifier of the sheer miscalculation of the performances across the board (the less said about Seth McFarlane’s stab at a British accent, the better).
The film’s structural cluelessness and its emotional manipulation go hand in hand. Riding in tandem with the central heist storyline is a subplot about Tatum’s daughter performing in a local talent contest, which frequently detracts from the momentum of the story at the film’s core- and more criminally, includes some of the worst child acting in recent memory. The entire film is plotted around the heist, and it is this key “Race Day” segment of the film where Soderbergh is in his element. Prior to this section, he rushes through expository set-up in a manner that feels unrealistic (the topic of pulling off a heist at Nascar is brought up randomly, and never questioned), then follows the heist up with an unnecessary “investigation” epilogue that introduces Hilary Swank as an FBI agent and makes the film lose the momentum it gained during the heist sequences.
Soderbergh clearly relishes the thrills of documenting meticulously displayed heists, so much so that everything surrounding it feels half hearted- as close to a McGuffin a fully fleshed out narrative can possibly be. Logan Lucky is momentarily entertaining, but it is very quickly forgettable; a minor work from one of American cinema’s most restless mainstream filmmakers that has such little impact, he might as well have remained in retirement.