After the critical success of the thriller Traffic in 2000, Steven Soderbergh went on to direct the divisive Ocean’s Eleven, released the following year, and its subsequent sequels (of progressively-declining quality). Through the years since the near-bomb Ocean’s Thirteen, Soderbergh has been working steadily, albeit largely under-the-radar. Enter 2017 and Soderbergh returns to the light heist movie format with Logan Lucky.
The movie stars Channing Tatum as Jimmy Logan, a father and divorcee working for a construction company on contract involving tunneling under the Charlotte Motor Speedway, who is laid off as a liability due to an injury that causes him to limp. He and his brother, a bartender named Clyde (who lost his arm in the Iraq war), through a series of slightly-contrived circumstances, come to the conclusion to steal money from the speedway. Their plan is somewhat convenient and absurd, but it works for the plot, which was very-very-loosely based on true events. They bring on a notorious local criminal named Joe Bang (whom they have to break out of prison by having Clyde break into prison; also convoluted), Jimmy’s oddly-compliant sister, and lastly two hapless “techies” to complete the crew. Then the team of disjointed rednecks launch their criminal master plan.
While the first half of the movie is utterly absurd and even a little convoluted at times, the movie manages to keep things running pretty smoothly without feeling too slow as it moves along. Having this much plot in a movie like this can cause some scenes to feel disjointed and out-of-left-field and there are more than a few of moments in Logan Lucky that should have been either edited down or removed entirely, including one where a prison riot used as a distraction for the prison escape culminates in a ridiculous dispute over a fake list of demands. The dialogue is also very fast and heavy, something Soderbergh drew from his Ocean’s days, and can occasionally slow things to a crawl. Add to that a few moments that go on far longer than they should and about 15 minutes of filler and you have a 90-minute movie that the director manages to stretch to nearly two hours! There is no reason for a movie like this to be that long, and while Logan Lucky is entertaining, it would have probably landed even better with me if it weren’t for the intrusive runtime.
I suppose my biggest complaints with Logan Lucky are right along with those I had with Ocean’s Twelve. It was too convoluted, too silly and way too overwritten. The script here, written by possibly-pseudonymous Rebecca Blunt, seems to be attempting to recreate the fast-talking styles of some comedies from the 50’s and 60’s but doesn’t really land. Like Ocean’s Twelve, everything is written to the point where it sounds and feels like everyone is trying too hard to be clever. This is fine for the comedy elements of the movie executed by the leads, but when even Jimmy’s seven-year-old daughter is reading over-witty lines precociously, it gets a little outlandish. Still, there are plenty of laughs from the script and the characters are pretty distinct, so it does manage to break the strain of feeling like you’re trapped in a restaurant booth between two loud, arguing family members.
The performances here span the spectrum of quality for a movie like this. Channing Tatum is generally fine, especially in lighter roles, but here his portrayal of Jimmy Logan is more banal than anything. He’s suffers the problem of being the “everyman” to the point of being rather boring, especially up against his supporting cast. Adam Driver (riding the success of Star Wars: The Force Awakens) is awkwardly-funny as Clyde, who is stiff and over-serious and delivers some of the better straight-man lines in the movie. The bombast comes from Daniel Craig as Joe Bang, who is a loud-mouth bomber criminal who helps the brothers with the more dangerous parts of their heist. His portrayal of a raucous hillbilly is instantly-funny knowing that he is more well-known for playing the sophisticated, edgy, and very English James Bond. The reward for “Worst Character” in the movie goes to (surprise, surprise) Seth MacFarlane, who plays an utterly obnoxious energy drink promoter named Max. His character stops the movie dead for four particular scenes that simply do not need to be in the movie at all and are easily the worst parts of the movie. There is also a pretty funny appearance late in the movie by Hillary Swank as an intrepid FBI agent investigating the theft and a small role for the declining Katie Holmes as Jimmy’s ex-wife who is given next-to-nothing to do outside being the barrier between Jimmy and his daughter.
Gripes aside, Logan Lucky is an entertaining watch. It has a lot of laughs and is generally pretty enjoyable. It didn’t leave a bad taste in my mouth and, in fact, I didn’t have many complaints at all until I had time to reflect on the film. While I watching it I was enjoying the twisted humor and the willingness of all of the actors to just cut loose. Craig and Driver take dialogue that is pretty standard for a film like this and sells them through their admirable delivery, elevating the material. Craig is loud and loquacious and brings energy to his scenes while Adam Driver’s straight-faced, intentionally-stiff Clyde hits funny lines with a sort of sincerity that makes his character very likable and I am glad to see him shaping up to be a pretty good actor on the Hollywood main stage.
I really can’t hate on this movie too much. A few years ago I probably would have despised it but as I watch more and more cheesy movies and find my cynical film snobbery dissolve away with age, I can honestly recommend Logan Lucky. I would say pay matinee price, or if you’re willing to wait, check it out On Demand from your platform of choice. Logan Lucky is a movie I will probably never feel the need to watch again and again, but it works as a funny one-time movie excursion. It may not be for everyone as it is overlong, overwritten and somewhat cliched at times, but if you just want to check out a fun comedy it gets a pretty solid recommendation.