Logan Lucky (2017) / Comedy-Thriller

MPAA Rated: PG-13 for language and some crude comments
Running Time: 118 min.

Cast: Channing Tatum, Adam Driver, Riley Keough, Daniel Craig, Katie Holmes, Farrah Mackenzie, Seth MacFarlane, Dwight Yoakam, Katherine Waterston, Sebastian Stan, Hilary Swank
Cameo: Kyle Busch, Darrell Waltrip, Jeff Gordon, LeAnn Rimes, Macon Blair
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Screenplay: Rebecca Blunt
Review published August 26, 2017

West Virginia family, the Logans, have claimed they and their kin have been cursed for nearly a century of bad luck. This story focuses on three of them, the recently laid-off and lame-legged Jimmy (Tatum, Hail Caesar!), his war-vet amputee bartender brother Clyde (Driver, Silence), and hairdresser car-nut younger sister Mellie (Keough, American Honey). When Jimmy needs some money to help to support his daughter (Mackenzie, You Get Me), who is in the custody of his feisty ex-wife (Holmes, Woman in Gold), he puts the wheels in motion on a plan to make a lot of money, and in a hurry. They gather a crew together to pull off a $14 million heist in the tunnels below the Charlotte Motor Speedway, in the midst of one of the most popular NASCAR events of the year, the Coca-Cola 600.

Steven Soderbergh (Side Effects, Magic Mike) returns from his short-lived, four-year retirement for another heist film, though not much of a hiatus -- in the interim, he directed all twenty episodes of "The Knick" on Cinemax, which would be the equivalent of about 10 films. Normally, Soderbergh at the helm should mean we're in good hands, as Ocean's Eleven is a bonafide heist-film classic.  Call Logan Lucky the antithesis of Ocean's Eleven (an allusion to the thieves being comparable to "Ocean's 7-11" is apropos), as we have blue-collar and down-and-out criminals trying to steal millions using low-tech means. Though not as flashy, we like them enough as characters to want to see them prevail, even though there isn't a prick of a nemesis to foil as there had been in Soderbergh's prior heist films.  It still could work, and yet...

Logan Lucky is credited to someone with no prior IMDB credits, Rebecca Blunt, fueling speculation that it is written under a pseudonym, perhaps by Steven Soderbergh himself, or Jules Asner, Soderbergh's wife and novelist/journalist, as he has indicated in subsequent interviews that Blunt is no male screenwriter.  Either way, it's more or less a Soderbergh film, as he has written quite a few heists into his own movies, and wrote a couple for others.  Heist films are a natural choice for directors to explore, as heists share many aspects of directing a film, from putting together a team of people with varied talents to pull it off, to the high stakes, to the preparation, to the execution.  If you understand how to pull off a film, you'll understand the components of pulling off an elaborately timed and well-plotted robbery, which makes it a natural choice for Soderbegh to choose as he begins the process of orchestrating his first film in a few years, just to get the mechanics down again.

Whoever wrote the film is certainly of a certain generation familiar with films of the 1970s, a decade to which Logan Lucky pays particular homage, despite being set in the modern day.  Emulating the good-ole-boys comic action of such films as Smokey and the Bandit, The Sugarland Express, and TV's "The Dukes of Hazzard", the slack and lackadaisical pacing of the film would feel right at home if it were released forty years ago.  Homage is also paid to heist films of that era, including, in particular, another "11" film not in the Ocean's 11 series, 1974's 11 Harrowhouse, which also features a heist that involves the painting of cockroaches and vacuum tubes. The film also extols the virtues of John Denver's 1971 classic, "Take Me Home, Country Roads", making it the fourth film in 2017 in which a John Denver song fits directly into the main plot (after Free Fire, Alien: Covenant and Okja). Unfortunately, what worked forty years ago may be debatable in holding the attention of many in modern-day audiences, as the slackness and introduction of a slew of side characters, many of whom are not necessary to explore in repeated scenes, make the film seem aimless and unfocused, as if we're watching the 'extended cut' with all of the normally deleted scenes put back.  

Nevertheless, Logan Lucky is still blessed with a great cast and fun idea for a setting, and with Soderbergh refreshed and raring to go in a genre he excels at, this would seem like a can't miss entertainment. Alas, even with solid actors, while individual performances might seem to be fine, what's missing from much of the movie is the kind of cast chemistry that usually marks the best heist films, feeling more like a collection of individuals each doing their own shtick rather than finding ways to complement one another.  While it attempts to play as a comedy, the humor relies too often on the zaniness of the characters, or something absurd, such as a man dressed in a bear suit that appears and disappears out of nowhere or 'My Little Pony' bandages placed on the upper arm of a hunky man. There's even an ill-advised attempt at topical humor in a reference to "Game of Thrones" that may go down with a bit of an aftertaste for those averse to shoehorned gags.  Mileage will certainly vary on how much you find the aforementioned funny, but I can tell you that I only chuckled once.

Daniel Craig (reportedly, Craig, in his first non-James Bond performance in about five years, stayed in character even off the set during filming so he wouldn't lose the accent), with his tats and bleached hair, has gotten good praise for a scene-stealing, wacked-out performance as convict explosives expert Joe Bang (is he contractually obligated to play characters with J.B as his initials?). Yet, one can say his performance doesn't enhance the actors around him, and in some ways, the shift in our focus to him means that the Logan story feels more diminished as we enter into the second half, where they appear far less in favor of those side characters, save for a couple of key scenes without Bang.  On a positive side note, we are at least 'lucky' that both Soderbergh, who said he would stop directing, and Craig, who said he would rather slash his wrists than play James Bond again, decided to forgo those notions and return where their fans want them, on the big screen doing what they do best.

As fine as many elements of the film are, Logan Lucky is encumbered by a meandering storyline, a not-terribly-interesting manner of relating its plot (the details of the heist aren't revealed until during and after), too many character actors who contribute little but cartoonish zaniness, and a lackadaisical pace that makes many scenes feel long and laborious, especially as the film extends beyond its climax for a lengthy epilogue. I normally enjoy the works of Steven Soderbergh, so the fact that I'm underwhelmed by Logan Lucky is not insignificant to me, especially considering the fact that the director has stated that he might only come back to directing films when he found something that is truly compelling for him to do so.

Alas, Logan Lucky, which, admittedly, is not without some modicum of charm, and the usual Soderbergh flair for visual flourishes, often feels like an unfocused and undisciplined work, with hit-and-miss performances that don't deliver enough requisite cast chemistry, and not the kind of inspired project for a director that has already covered similar ground in his other heist films, and has done so with the kind of drive, determination and finesse that separates the best competitors from those who finish up at the back of the pack.  Now that he's gotten through this run, I expect him to be vying for a victory lap when he gets behind the wheel yet again.

Qwipster's rating:

2017 Vince Leo