LOGAN LUCKY

Reviewed by GREG KING

Director: Steven Soderbergh

Stars: Channing Tatum, Adam Driver, Daniel Craig, Riley Keogh, Katie Holmes, Hilary Swank, Seth McFarlane, Dwight Yoakum, Farrah McKenzie, David Denman, Charles Halford, Katherine Waterston, Brian Gleeson, Jack Quaid, Macon Blair.

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Four years ago, Oscar winning filmmaker Steven Soderbergh announced that he was quitting the movie business after 2013’s Side Effects. During that retirement though he concentrated on television work, and he earned a couple of Emmy Awards for his work on the tv series The Knick and the Liberace biopic Behind The Candelabra. But obviously the desire to make more feature films never completely waned. Now he returns with this diverting comic heist caper, a genre he is familiar with having made the superior Ocean’s Eleven trilogy.

Jimmy Logan (played by Channing Tatum) is a down on his luck construction worker – divorced and recently fired from his job because of a bad knee. He once had a promising career as a football player until a knee injury forced him to retire from the sport early. He believes that his turn for the worse is part of the feared Logan family curse. In desperate need of money, he hatches a reckless and foolhardy scheme to rob the Charlotte speedway during the Coca-Cola 600, the biggest NASCAR race of the year, using insider knowledge he acquired while working on the site. He enlists the help of his brother Clyde (Adam Driver), a former Iraqi veteran who lost an arm to an IED and now runs a bar, the Duck Tape Bar & Grill, and Mellie (Riley Keogh, from Mad Max: Fury Road, etc), his car-obsessed hairdresser sister. Jimmy also enlists the help of a couple of local stoners cousins in the dim-witted Bang brothers – simpletons Sam (Brian Gleeson) and Fish (Jack Quaid).

But the elaborate plan hinges on the expertise of explosives expert Joe Bang (James Bond himself Daniel Craig, cast against type), who is unfortunately incarcerated in the local state prison with five months left to serve. Jimmy and Clyde have to spring Joe from prison, but they also have to ensure they return him to his cell before his absence in noticed. The heist itself is quite complicated and relies on clockwork precision and some deft misdirection to succeed.

Logan Lucky is best described as Ocean’s 11 meets Days Of Thunder but played for laughs as this incompetent gang of thieves aim for a million-dollar payoff even though they have no criminal experience. Soderbergh handles the material with his usual leisurely pace and deceptively laid-back style, but it somehow feels slightly uneven and unbalanced. He has shot the film himself using his usual pseudonym of Peter Andrews, and he captures the feel, the excitement and the sound and fury of the NASCAR experience.

First time scriptwriter Rebecca Blunt (a pseudonym for Soderbergh himself?) gives the genre a touch of redneck humour with some wonderfully drawn oddball blue collar characters. But the film is never condescending towards these characters. A subplot involving Jimmy’s daughter participating in a child beauty pageant and talent quest adds little to the overall plot except extending the running time unnecessarily, and indeed Little Miss Sunshine said all there is to say about this particular form of child exploitation. And the continued use of John Denver’s anthemic signature tune Country Roads gives the material a nice homespun quality.

This is Tatum’s fourth collaboration with Soderbergh, and the director seems to know how to get the best out of the actor. Tatum plays dumb well enough, although he hints at a deeper intelligence and rat cunning beneath the surface. Having delivered a couple of winning performances in the dramas Patterson and Silence, Driver is good in a lighter role as the paranoid and cynical Clyde and he brings a suitably deadpan style to his performance. Tatum and Driver develop a good rapport as the bumbling Logan brothers. Craig is almost unrecognisable with his bleached blonde buzz cut hair style, heavily tattooed face and thick hillbilly accent, but he is clearly having a ball with this broadly comic performance that allows him to break away from the typecasting of the action hero and superspy.

Soderbergh has attracted a solid ensemble cast here to flesh out the characters and their idiosyncrasies. The cast also includes Hilary Swank in a small role as an FBI special agent brought in to investigate the robbery; Seth McFarlane is annoying as Max Chilbain, an arrogant and narcissistic English race car driver and Sebastian Stan plays his reluctant co-driver; Katie Holmes is Jimmy’s grasping and materialistic ex-wife Bobbi Jo; and country singer Dwight Yoakum plays the sleazy and sadistic prison warder Burns.

The comedy caper Logan Lucky, with its wonderfully droll dialogue, offbeat humour, great cast, convoluted plotting and visual style marks a welcome return to the big screen for Soderbergh.
★★★

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