Steven Soderbergh’s new comedy stars Channing Tatum as Jimmy Logan, a lifelong underachiever who decides to perform a heist during a NASCAR race. Jimmy enlists the aid of unlikely cohorts, including his brother Clyde (Adam Driver), a local bartender and amputee. There’s also the incarcerated Joe Bang (Daniel Craig) and a few other country bumpkins who get involved in Jimmy’s high-stakes robbery, which bears a resemblance to the kind of larger-than-life criminal performance art you’d expect from Danny Ocean.
In fact, late into Logan Lucky, someone even deems the redneck criminals “Ocean’s 7-Eleven,” a cute touch, since Soderbergh is the mastermind behind those George Clooney-led flicks. However, even Ocean’s 12, the gaseous, self-indulgent second installment, had real laughs. Logan Lucky has a droll, detached, too-cool-for-school attitude that it never earns.
The screenplay (credited to newcomer Rebecca Blunt but widely suspected to be penned by Soderbergh) is overwritten yet flimsy and never picks up much momentum. As a comedy, this is one of the flimsiest in Soderbergh’s remarkable body of work. Amusing malapropisms and goofy accents aside, the jokes here are light and widely scattered. The height of the film’s wit is to note George R.R. Martin’s erratic publishing schedule and that “Umbrella” is about Rihanna’s vagina.
A good, committed cast keeps this watchable but, aside from what they achieved working with a dialect coach, there are no career milestones here. Craig’s yankee accent is especially impressive but his wacky tough guy performance doesn’t elevate the movie like it should. Tatum is quite good, though the character isn’t far removed from Magic Mike (you half-expect Jimmy to try stripping if the whole NASCAR heist thing goes badly). Driver is always solid, though the good work of Katie Holmes, Seth MacFarlane (sporting the best of the accents) and Dwight Yoakam is undermined by the fact their characters are drawn so thinly.
Soderbergh’s last two movies were the terrific Side Effects (which co-starred Tatum) and the celebrated TV movie Behind the Candelabra, which starred Michael Douglas and Matt Damon. This is Soderbergh’s first film after declaring he “retired” from filmmaking, during which he gave us highly influential independent films (Sex, Lies and Videotape, Traffic and Bubble), hugely popular mainstream hits (the Ocean’s trilogy, Magic Mike, Out of Sight, Erin Brockovich and Contagion) and works so deliciously odd (Kafka, Solaris and The Girlfriend Experience) that they’ve garnered a deserved cult following. I’m a fan of Soderbergh and want him to keep making great movies but Logan Lucky is to that filmography what a Slim Jim is to a steak.
If anyone steals the movie outright, it’s little Farrah Mackenzie, playing Jimmy’s adorable daughter Sadie. She’s the focus of the film’s best scene (set during a children’s beauty pageant) but the sentimentality overall feels forced. So do the post-heist sequences, in which Hilary Swank is brought in late as a Special Agent investigating the Logan brothers. These scenes go nowhere and only waste the talented Swank.
Despite the NASCAR angle and a Jeff Gordon appearance, the setting is woefully underutilized. Don’t expect a racing movie–even Talladega Nights: the Ballad of Ricky Bobby has more raceway footage (and is a lot funnier).
I’m hoping Soderbergh leap frogs over this movie (more of a creative speed bump than a curse) and shapes a worthier comeback. We need Soderbergh, whose declaration of a retirement came as a shock. In this age of corporate cinema, talentless movie producers calling the shots and most mainstream films saddled with the need to build either a franchise or a freakin “universe,” we need a wild card like Soderbergh more than ever.