Director Steven Soderbergh has enjoyed a long and varied career. He’s made dramas [SEX, LIES, AND VIDEOTAPE (1989)], comedies [MAGIC MIKE (2012), science fiction [SOLARIS (2002), thrillers [SIDE EFFECTS (2013), and of course the George Clooney OCEAN 11 movies.
With LOGAN LUCKY (2017), Soderbergh returns to comedy in this lighthearted tale about two brothers planning an improbable heist at the Charlotte Motor Speedway. And while it appears that everyone involved is having a great time, it doesn’t always translate to full-throated laughter.
Things are not going well for Jimmy Logan (Channing Tatum). He loses his construction job because of a bad leg, and his ex-wife Bobbie Jo (Katie Holmes) is about to move out-of-state with her new husband, which will make it more difficult for the out-of-work Jimmy to see his young daughter Sadie (Farrah Mackenzie) on a regular basis.
So, Jimmy plots with his bartender brother Clyde (Adam Driver) to rob the Charlotte Motor Speedway. He chooses the race track because he had been working there on the construction crew repairing sink holes, and he had seen firsthand the vault underneath the stadium which holds the cash from the concession stands.
To pull off the heist, Jimmy and Clyde turn to the their friend Joe Bang (Daniel Craig), who is an expert at blowing open safes. Trouble is, Bang is in jail, and so Jimmy and Clyde concoct a plan to break Bang out of prison so he can do the job and then get him back inside again without anyone noticing. To do this, they employ the help of Bang’s two oddball brothers, Fish (Jack Quaid) and Sam (Brian Gleeson), as well as their own sister Mellie Logan (Riley Keough).
Then it’s off to the races, or so they hope.
LOGAN LUCKY reminded me a lot of a Coen brothers movie, only without the dark edges. It features quirky characters, puts them in some ridiculous situations, and lets things fly. The only difference is with a Coen brothers movie you expect something bad to happen, some bloodshed perhaps, while here, the loose ends are all tied together nicely, perhaps a bit too nicely.
Incredibly, the story manages to remain grounded in reality. In spite of how wildly inane the plot becomes, it all remains believable, and the characters in spite of their eccentricities remain real. It’s a smart script by Rebecca Blunt.
That being said, I wouldn’t have minded more zaniness, as the film isn’t as funny as it should be. More laughs, and sharper ones, would have definitely made things better.
The story jumps back and forth between Jimmy’s West Virginia home and the Charlotte Motor Speedway in North Carolina, and the whole film is steeped in southern country atmosphere, helped along by Jimmy’s favorite song, John Denver’s “Country Roads.”
Director Soderbergh also gets the most out of his strong cast in LOGAN LUCKY.
I’m not a Channing Tatum fan, but he’s excellent here as Jimmy Logan. He’s pretty much the straight man in the story, and while he’s surrounded by oddball characters and takes part in a ridiculous scheme, his character remains pretty real. This might be my favorite Channing Tatum movie performance, mostly because it reminds me of nothing he has done before.
Likewise, Adam Driver excels as Jimmy’s brother Clyde. Seriously, all Driver has to do in this movie is stand there and he gets laughs. It’s a much more satisfying performance than his troubled Kylo Ren in STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS (2015). I enjoyed Driver much more here.
And then there’s Daniel Craig as safe cracker Joe Bang, looking as far removed from James Bond here as ever, with his southern accent and quirky personality. It’s probably the most fun performance by Craig- who always looks so serious- to date. The scenes where Tatum, Driver, and Craig appear together are very funny, and the film soars during these moments, like the sequence where Joe Bang explains to Jimmy and Clyde the chemical formula for his bomb, writing the formula on the wall of the motor speedway tunnel and speaking to them as if he’s a classroom chemistry teacher. But sadly there aren’t as many scenes with all three actors together as you might expect.
I’m quickly becoming a big fan of Riley Keough. I first noticed her in the excellent horror movie IT COMES AT NIGHT (2017). She’s superb again here as Jimmy’s and Clyde’s sister Mellie. She’s wonderfully real, and terribly sexy at the same time.
Jack Quaid and Brian Gleeson are also very good in smaller roles as Joe’s brothers Fish and Sam. Katie Holmes’ role as Jimmy’s ex-wife Bobbie Jo is pretty standard.
Two other stars appear in smaller roles. Seth MacFarlane is unrecognizable with his long hair, mustache, and a beard in a thankless role as a NASCAR promoter and TV personality Max Chilblain. And Hilary Swank shows up late in the game as FBI Agent Sarah Grayson who investigates the heist.
When Swank’s FBI agent shows up to investigate the robbery, it’s at a point in the film where it naturally seems to be winding down, but it doesn’t, and it continues to go on for some time, a bit too long. The final reel of the film seems tacked on and unnecessary.
Other than this, LOGAN LUCKY is a well-made, well-directed, well-acted, and smartly written comedy that is light and enjoyable. The only thing missing, and it’s a big thing, is the laughter. While I chuckled here and there, the comedy simply isn’t as sharp as it needs to be.
Granted, the film has its moments, but for a movie that feels like a screwball comedy, the limited laughter came as a surprise. That being said, LOGAN LUCKY has an intelligent script that keeps things believable throughout, and with a solid cast delivering exceptional performances, it’s a hard movie to dislike.
I just wished I had laughed more.