After taking a four-year hiatus from the world of feature films (unless you count his work as cinematographer on Magic Mike XXX), Steven Soderbergh is back with another elaborate heist caper. But while Logan Lucky shares the same DNA as the Oceans trilogy – which receives a tongue-in-cheek reference here – Soderbergh has replaced the tailored suits with blue jeans and classic rock T-shirts while supplanting the sounds of the casino floor with the roar of NASCAR engines. The result is basically the director’s version of “good ol’ boy” entertainment like Smokey and the Bandit or The Dukes of Hazzard, and it’s a hell of a good time.
A high school football star whose nagging leg injury prevented a pro career, Jimmy Logan (Channing Tatum) has spent most of his adult life working the type of jobs that require a hard hat and reflective vest. He’s currently in the midst of his most lucrative gig ever, filling in sinkholes below the Charlotte Motor Speedway before the racing season begins – but when an anonymous human resources rep spots Jimmy limping to his truck, the bigwig decide his condition is too much of a liability, and he’s dismissed before the job can be finished. His brother Clyde (Adam Driver), a war veteran missing the lower half of his left arm, chalks Jimmy’s misfortune up to the family curse, but Jimmy has a plan to set things right again, and exact a little bit of retribution in the process.
The scheme involves exploiting the Charlotte Motor Speedway’s pneumatic tube system, used to quickly send cash from the concession and merchandise stands into a central repository. Thanks to his time on the job, Jimmy knows where the tubes converge, but to pilfer the loot he’ll need someone with a background in demolition – namely, Joe Bang (Daniel Craig), a certified vault virtuoso currently serving time for a string of impressive bank robberies. With five months left on his sentence, Joe isn’t exactly available on the date in question – but Jimmy’s wild scheme not only includes springing his accomplice from the slammer, but returning him before anyone realizes he’s gone.
Logan Lucky is full of delightfully absurd ideas such as this, and despite the apparent bumbling nature of the crew – which includes Jimmy and Clyde’s sister (Riley Keough) and two additional Bang brothers (Brian Gleeson and Jack Quaid) – the heist is an unexpectedly intricate affair, especially as things begin to go wrong and the group is forced to improvise… and improvise some more. The sheer complexity of the plan combined with the limited resources and intellect of folks at the helm requires a certain suspension of disbelief – this is the kind of job that Danny Ocean would have found difficult to conceive, much less accomplish – but the whole thing is so damn fun that we seldom mind the various implausibilities that crop up.
The comedic chemistry between Tatum and Driver is off the charts, and it’s a shame the brothers don’t spend more screentime together, because every one of their scenes is pure gold – particularly when Clyde begrudgingly agrees to listen to his brother’s plan for no other reason than the fact that Jimmy “burned the bacon like I liked it.” But with a tattooed torso, platinum blonde buzz cut and mischievous gleam in his eye – not to mention a reedy Southern drawl – Craig is the film’s true standout, playing wildly against type and obviously having an absolute blast doing it. That a guy named Joe Bang would be Logan Lucky‘s most charismatic and endearing character is just one of the many surprises Soderbergh has up his sleeve here.
With a leisurely pace and a running time that clocks in right at the two-hour mark, the film could have been served by a bit of editing, and there are numerous opportunities where a few minutes could easily have been shaved off. Characters like a British energy drink creator (Seth MacFarlane) and a yoga-obsessed driver making a comeback (Sebastian Stan) add nothing of value to the narrative, and their material is some of the script’s weakest (although it should be said that overall, Rebecca Blunt’s screenplay is stellar). There’s also the curious decision to add Hilary Swank and Macon Blair as a pair of FBI agents during the third act, with roles that give them almost nothing to do.
But even acknowledging those complaints, it’s difficult to find much fault in Logan Lucky when it’s so undeniably fun to experience. Soderbergh gently pokes fun at Southern culture – the pre-teen beauty pageants, the gossipy old women, the NASCAR craze and the barroom brawls – without ever coming across as mean-spirited, and he successfully blends his tried-and-true heist film blueprint with the world of pickup trucks and John Denver songs, resulting in one of the funniest and most purely enjoyable films of the year.