Logan Lucky is a redneck Ocean's Eleven. For his first feature film in four years, Steven Soderbergh has snuck back in on a back road with a goofy and steadily amusing tale of born losers in West Virginia who try to hit the jackpot by divesting an auto raceway of a few million bills. This loose and shambling tale with a very attractive cast is highlighted by a wonderfully wacky, show-stealing turn by Daniel Craig as a down-home career criminal.
There is definitely an audience for this likeable but no-big-deal film and probably even two — aficionados of the director and cast, as well as good-time-seeking Middle Americans — so the onus is on the very indie distributors to find it; this would be a great August drive-in picture if many outdoor screens still existed.
Working with a script by first-time writer Rebecca Blunt, Soderbergh has made the sort of breezy, unpretentious, just-for-fun film that scarcely exists anymore, one almost anyone could enjoy. In terms of milieu, it overlaps with the two Magic Mike outings, that being the working-class South (Soderbergh hails from Georgia and Louisiana, it should be remembered), and it gives off the same sort of gently rollicking good-time vibe.
And they all star Channing Tatum, who this time turns up a few steps lower on the socio-economic ladder — and even further down the IQ scale — as Jimmy Logan, a heavy equipment operator who loses his job in the opening scene, has forfeited all custody rights to his daughter with ex-wife Bobbie Jo (Katie Holmes) and has no prospects when he heads over for a drink at the roadside bar tended by his Iraq War vet brother Clyde (Adam Driver), who has a prosthetic lower left arm he doesn't always manage to keep attached; it's the first casualty of a funny set-to with an obnoxious British race car driver (with the Thomas Pynchon-worthy name of Max Chilblain), played by a virtually unrecognizable, frizzy-haired Seth MacFarlane.
So what do these down-on-their-luck good ol' boys do to turn things around for the Logan family after several generations' worth of abject, poverty-ridden, impressively sustained failure? It might just be time to try their luck on the wrong side of the law. Jimmy's bright idea is to rob the mother lode of NASCAR, the Charlotte Motor Speedway, during the Coca-Cola 600 on Memorial Day weekend. And just how do they intend to pull this off? Well, it so happens that Jimmy worked construction on the infrastructure of said-same race track. Therefore, he says, “I know how they move the money,” which is through an elaborate system of tubes in the bowels of the giant stadium.
While not nearly as well dressed as the Ocean's gang, an ace team is assembled to pull off the unlikely heist. Given their range of associates, the brothers must start in jail, which is where they track down the one-and-only Joe Bang (Craig), a man known for blowing up bank vaults; no one inquires as to whether or not Bang is his real name. Of more immediate interest, however, is how the once-and-possibly-still-future James Bond has been decked out with short-cut white hair that makes him distinctly resemble Robert Shaw in From Russia With Love, so this is the closest the actor will ever get to playing a Bond villain.
The fact that Joe still has five months to go behind bars presents no problem, as he reassures his cohorts that he can break out of prison and then back in again before anyone is the wiser. Making the operation even more of family affair is the sister (Riley Keough) of Jimmy and Clyde (that could have been an alternate title). With this crew running the show, further mishaps inevitably ensue, including one very big one — and at two hours, Soderbergh perhaps does let the whole thing go on a few minutes too long, even if the final twists hit the spot.
Blunt's script is full of giddy inventions and gives the actors some good stuff to play with, but there is the sense that one more serious pass at it might have made it a bit tighter, more spirited and authentically low-down. A few moments, particularly early on, also betray a whiff of condescension to the characters.
The actors seems to be having a great time, however, and this proves contagious. Craig, Tatum and MacFarlane all find good comic grooves and stay in them. Driver's reserved sincerity is perhaps intended as an underplayed contrast, but in practice just means that the actor doesn't come off as winningly as do his co-leads. Hilary Swank pops in late-on as a special agent who tries to get to the bottom of the heist, while Katherine Waterston is wasted in a nothing part.
Still, this is a good-times film that doesn't put on airs, dress to impress or pretend to be something it isn't. It just aims to please, and does a pretty good job of it.
Production companies: Trans-Radial Pictures, Free Association
Distributor: Bleecker Street
Cast: Channing Tatum, Adam Driver, Seth MacFarlane, Riley Keough, Katie Holmes, Katherine Waterston, Dwight Yoakam, Sebastian Stan, Brian Gleeson, Jack Quaid, Hilary Swank, Daniel Craig, Jesse White
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Screenwriter: Rebecca Blunt
Producers: Gregory Jacobs, Mark Johnson, Channing Tatum, Reid Carolin
Executive producers: Michael Polaire, Dan Fellman, Zane Stoddard
Director of photography: Peter Andrews
Production designer: Howard Cummings
Costume designer: Ellen Mirojnick
Editor: Mary Ann Bernard
Music: David Holmes
Casting: Carmen Cuba
Rated PG-13, 119 minutes