“I like the song because of the song.”
That’s what Jimmy Logan (Channing Tatum) tells his young daughter in Logan Lucky, after she asks if the backstory behind the John Denver tune they’re listening to is the reason he enjoys it. The story helps, he admits, but mostly it’s about the music.
I like Logan Lucky well enough on those terms, but I wish it had a bit more song to it. Coming out of faux retirement, director Steven Soderbergh offers a blue-collar riff on his Ocean’s heist films that’s entertaining in spurts, but also suffers from more than one kind of Southern drawl.
Jimmy is a divorced dad unfairly laid off from his construction job at the Charlotte Motor Speedway because of a limp from a previous workplace injury. Desperate for funds, especially as his daughter (Farrah Mackenzie) is concerned, Jimmy concocts an elaborate scheme to break into the speedway’s vault during an upcoming race. To pull it off, he enlists his hair stylist sister (Riley Keough); his one-armed, Iraq War veteran brother (Adam Driver); a notorious—and currently incarcerated—safecracker (Daniel Craig); and said safecracker’s dimwitted, layabout brothers (Brian Gleeson and Jack Quaid).
To put it politely, there are some interesting performance choices among that group. Driver attempts something that amounts to a twang, but he wouldn’t seem any more out of place if he just went ahead and spoke like Kylo Ren. Craig affects something similarly Southernish, but can’t quite settle on if he wants to be a menacing presence or a lovable rogue. The less said about those brothers the better (the movie is never more condescending of Nascar culture than when they’re on the screen).
Keough and Tatum are doing something different; they’re both working in a comic key, yet they register as real people too. Tatum is particularly endearing as a smart guy who could use some dumb luck, and so he’s going to try and force the issue. Limping around trying to get his complicated hustle off the ground, often wearing one sort of work overalls or another, Jimmy is a sad, post-recession twist on the American Dream; apparently it takes both hard work and a good scam to achieve it. At its best, Logan Lucky recalls Magic Mike, Tatum’s other collaboration with Soderbergh. Both are light entertainments that are also wise about the economic desperation that can often define working-class life.
To put it politely, there are some interesting performance choices among this group.
Mostly, though, this is a heist movie. And while it has its moments—there’s a nice gag when one of Craig’s devices fails to explode—Logan Lucky never purrs with the energy or sense of perfection that Ocean’s Eleven did (I even prefer the two Ocean’s sequels). Soderbergh’s zippy editing is on limited display, and there is no real signature to the cinematography. (As usual, Soderbergh handles both duties.) There are also loose threads and plot holes pertaining to the heist itself (the screenplay is credited to an apparently fictitious “Rebecca Blunt”). Some of this scruffiness can be attributed to the story’s setting. It would be absurd to light Jimmy’s trailer like one of Danny Ocean’s glittering casinos, yet a bit more polished glamour on Soderbergh’s part wouldn’t have hurt.