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Saturday, August 19, 2017

Logan Lucky

After stepping away from feature filmmaking for four years, Steven Soderbergh breaks from retirement with Logan Lucky, a lightweight but fun caper film that kind of serves as a combination of Soderbergh's remake of Ocean's 11, and selected films from the Coen Brothers (notably Raising Arizona and O Brother, Where Art Thou).  And while the thick Southern accents and "dumb hick" cliches are laid on a bit thick at times, the film is energetic and fast-paced throughout. 

Channing Tatum is a long way from Magic Mike here, playing Jimmy Logan, a down on his luck Southern "good ol' boy" who loses his job as a construction worker, and comes up with a plan to use his knowledge to steal money from a NASCAR racetrack.  Having taken part in an excavation project underneath the speedway, he knows the inner workings of the place, and the best way to make off with the loot.  He turns to his own family to help him with the plan, including his brother Clyde (Adam Driver), who doesn't let the fact that he lost part of one arm in Iraq slow him down any when he's on the job as a bartender, and his sister Mellie (Riley Keough).  But in order to get away with the money, he's going to need the help of an experienced professional.

Enter Joe Bang, played by a platinum blond Daniel Craig.  He's serving time in the local prison for his last heist, but the Logan Brothers think they know how to not only help him escape in order to pull off the heist, but to also get him back in the prison before the guards even know he's gone.  Just like the Ocean films, the fun here comes from the large cast of characters, and watching how the heist is planned and eventually pulled off.  Unlike George Clooney's gang, Tatum and his boys don't always come across as the sharpest knives in the drawer, which is where the screenplay draws a lot of its laughs.  But the biggest laughs belong to the completely absurd moments of humor, such as when some prisoners help stage a riot, and make very specific demands for the safety of the guards they have captured, which I would not dare reveal. 

There's a large cast at play here, and some are used better than others.  Tatum, Driver and Craig steal the entire show, and get the best moments.  On the more forgettable side, Katie Holmes shows up in the underwritten role of Tatum's ex-wife (they have a young daughter together who wants to perform in a junior beauty contest), while Hilary Swank appears in the last half hour as a gruff FBI agent trying to investigate the robbery, and how nothing quite matches up.  Despite her character suddenly becoming a key ingredient of the film's last half hour, she doesn't add up to much, and easily is forgettable.  And finally, there is Seth MacFarlane, who appears as a NASCAR sponsor, and is unrecognizable behind a very bad British accent, and an even worse wig.

Logan Lucky is probably not the kind of film you expect a great filmmaker like Soderbergh to come back in order to make, but even though it is lightweight and obviously a lark, it still shows his strengths as a director.  The action is fluid and hardly ever stops during its nearly two hour running time.  This is ultimately a lively movie, and the humor and lead performances keep up with the pace quite well.  And while the characters may not always be bright, the script is, and it includes a lot of clever twists and reveals, without getting bogged down.  It's fun watching the plot piece itself together, and how certain elements take on more importance near the end than you initially expected.  This is definitely a movie where paying attention to little details will reward you in the end.

There is a certain sweetnatured innocence here that's hard to deny.  The actors are obviously having fun (especially Craig, who seems to be relishing playing the complete opposite of his James Bond portrayal), and everyone's clearly in on the gag.  As long as you can withstand some rather strong Southern country-fried stereotypes, I don't see a lot to complain about.  I'm sure Soderbergh has another great movie in him.  It's just nice to have him back in the first place.

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