The buzzing media and down-home North Carolina public within the film Logan Lucky dub the central robbery a “hillbilly heist” and an “Ocean’s 7-11” perpetrated by “redneck robbers” and “Hee Haw heroes.” With diegetic puns like those being thrown around, how could you not be entertained by the unretired Steven Soderbergh’s first feature film in four years? It’s almost an invitation to pile on (in true Dad Joke fashion). How does “clodhopper caper” sound? What about “Podunk pilfering” or “backwoods buffoonery?” I’ll settle for “hayseed hijinks.”
Welcome to the land of modern folk tales and country gossip. Three siblings from the chronically beset Logan family of rural West Virginia get it in their mind to make their own luck, score big, and break a perceived and publicly-shamed family curse. In his Carhartt work wear, camouflage bottoms, and an array of classic rock band t-shirts, Jimmy Logan (Channing Tatum) is an out-of-work hardhat man and former high school dreamboat. He struggles to cover child support for his doting beauty pageant contest daughter Sadie (Farrah Mackenzie), much to the annoyance of his remarried sweetheart (Katie Holmes) who has turned into a chardonnay-sipping trophy wife to a clueless car dealer (David Denman). His younger brother Clyde (Adam Driver), in many of the same t-shirts, is a plain-speaking bartender who lost an arm serving in Iraq, and their sister Mellie (Riley Keough) is a frustrated local hairdresser.
Thanks to an inside look from Jimmy’s last work site, the family’s first target becomes the Charlotte Motor Speedway’s tube system for transporting more-than-petty cash through the underground bowels of the enormous 1.5-mile quad oval track. As complete novices to tackling crime, the three Logans enlist the help of another trio, the Bang brothers of Fish (Jack Quaid), Sam (Brian Gleeson), and Joe (Daniel Craig), the disturbed brains of the operation. One kicker of many is that get Joe’s help, they have to break him out of prison only to return him before anyone suspects. Piece of cake for good-old boys, right? Throw in a few competitive NASCAR drivers (Seth McFarlane and Sebastian Stan), a nurse (Katherine Waterston), a prison warden (Dwight Yoakam), and a game federal agent (Hilary Swank) and we have a barbecue.
I would say “cue the banjo and let’s go,” but Logan Lucky doesn’t have one or even a steel guitar for location-appropriate twang. Frequent Soderbergh musical collaborator David Holmes returns for another peppy and funky guitar-and-drum score that feels lifted straight from unused Ocean’s 11, 12, or 13 demos or B-sides. The energetic music is the first artistic place, of admittedly many, where Steven Soderbergh really isn’t doing anything new or challenging from his previous five crime comedies filled with big star muses playing loosey goosey out of character. The narrative itself from the suspected pseudonym Rebecca Blunt might as well be a carbon copy of the dalliances of Ocean’s 11 only with a smaller budget and a rural change of scenery.
Soderbergh insistently wears the cinematographer, editor, and director hats for Logan Lucky and his panning shots, light choices, slick chops, and collective mise-en-scene are readily familiar and expertly achieved. All of Steven’s bread-and-butter constructs may be repetitive muscle memory, but, hot pot of coffee, few people in the business, if any, are better at his brand of cinematic flair. The 54-year-old Oscar winner has endless style and guile. His layering of payoffs is second to none.
Because everything derivative in Logan Lucky is done with so much spunk, sizzle, and precision, the end result is still a bountiful amusement of zesty kicks. The rowdy laughs punch every rib. I cannot fault a performer like Daniel Craig and others for having a blast with the material and providing us with one too. In the same way that his Ocean’s series has repeat appeal, call Logan Lucky a return to form for Soderbergh and catchy fun. After this summer season, you’ve earned it.
LESSON #1: HAVE A CODE WORD FOR WHEN THINGS ARE ABOUT TO GET CRAZY-- Be able to communicate with your best mates and get the jump on your adversary. Cauliflower!
LESSON #2: JOHN DENVER WAS SOULFUL ANGEL-- The late John Denver’s signature song “Take Me Home, Country Roads” has become an iconic love letter to the state of West Virginia. The song is a brain-altering trigger of pride for the Mountain State the same way John Mellencamp’s “Jack and Diane” is for the Hoosier State (trust me, play the opening chords and watch people from Indiana lose their minds). The ghost of Henry John Deutschendorf Jr. has had a banner year at the movies with two songs in Logan Lucky and prominent tracks in Christine, Free Fire, Okja, and Alien: Covenant.
LESSON #3: FAMILY CURSES ARE HOGWASH-- The things that happen to someone, good or bad, are the results of choices, not curses. As many before us have said, if you believe in superstitions too much you become a slave to them. Add Clyde’s hang-up on moral reasons to the same horsefeathers.
LESSON #4: STICK TO YOUR RULES-- Jimmy Logan, with surprisingly impeccable penmanship, displays a made-up “10 Rules to Rob a Bank” list on his trailer park refrigerator. It’s unclear where he got the mastermind pointers (I’m guessing not Pinterest), but it counts as having an organized and focused plan. The trick then becomes sticking to those rules, objectives, and warnings through the actual activity.