Steven Soderbergh beats everyone to the punch in Logan Lucky, pegging a harebrained scheme to rob a redneck mecca as Ocean's 7-11. It's a throwaway line in a movie playing more like O brother, where have you been?
Returning from a four-year "retirement" no one really believed, Soderbergh eases back into action with a signature heist flick and Coen-esque flourishes; beefy jerks and Southern fried simpletons, desperate times and ridiculous measures. Logan Lucky is a hoot, a holler, a drag at times and doesn't know when to end but it's fun.
Set in almost heaven West Virginia, Logan Lucky is a shaggy tableau of Appalachian factors. Jimmy and Clyde Logan (Channing Tatum, Adam Driver) are snakebit brothers too dim to find both ends and make them meet. Jimmy lost a job today due to pre-existing condition liability; Clyde lost an arm in Iraq.
Even the luckiest Boone County residents are pinched, clinging to little town pleasures like child beauty pageants, pig feet bobbing and living room beauty shops named Hair We R. The script credited to first timer Rebecca Blunt — whose true identity is a subject of speculation — is Southern strange without condescension, expressing an offbeat nobility among dunces.
Jimmy's job was driving a front loader filling sinkholes beneath the Charlotte Motor Speedway, home of NASCAR. He noticed the race track uses a pneumatic tube system to transfer cash from all vendors and box offices to a central vault. Tap into the tubes and a fortune can be diverted. In heist comedy tradition, it won't be easy.
As with his Oceans trilogy, Soderbergh stays cagily unclear about details of the heist, offering a parade of non sequitur scenes that amuse on their own. The plan involves obtaining the services of Joe Bang, a lunatic hillbilly capable of making bombs from gummy bears. The only thing crazier than Joe is the fact that he's played by Daniel Craig with startling comedic chops. Logan Lucky gets a jolt of glaring joy each time he's on the screen.
That isn't the case with a needless subplot involving a race car sponsor (Seth MacFarlane) and his driver (Sebastian Stan). MacFarlane's portly makeup and English accent are cartoons compared even to the silliness around them while Stan disappears. They're roundabout intrusions on the heist, a set-up for a solitary joke that isn't worth the distraction.
Tatum's going-to-seed performance is his fifth favor to a Soderbergh flick, dimming the confidence of characters before. His scenes with Farrah Mackenzie as Jimmy's daughter bring an offbeat tenderness to domestic issues that aren't funny; a feeling helped by Katie Holmes' turn as Jimmy's ex-wife.
Driver is deadpan hilarious as Clyde, ticking off the list of Logan family tragedies that everyone in Boone County calls a curse. Clyde's an unreadable open book of regrets and calm revenges, devoted to the only Logan the curse seems to skip, sister Mellie (Riley Keough, again a riveting presence on screen).
Other performers don't register as well: Katherine Waterston's romantic interest for Jimmy becomes a wrap-up afterthought. Hilary Swank's FBI agent arrives late to sound like Clint Eastwood, maybe a wink to her Million Dollar Baby director. For all its eccentricity Logan Lucky too often reminds us of movies Soderbergh or someone else made before.
Contact Steve Persall at [email protected] or (727) 893-8365. Follow @StevePersall.