Soderbergh Makes Welcome Return To The Big Screen With "Logan Lucky"

Director Steven Soderbergh, owner of one stealthily stellar filmography (gems like “Erin Brockovich” and “Side Effects” are rarely counted among his best work) and one of Twitter’s most undervalued accounts, has been missing from the silver screen for four long years. Not that his self-imposed “retirement” involved many Mai Tais. The auteur lensed and edited Reid Carolin’s sequel to his own “Magic Mike” under two different pseudonyms while pulling double duty as executive producer and director on Cinemax’s “The Knick.” Call his return to theaters inevitable, call it predestination, but it’s our luck. Heist comedy “Logan Lucky” isn’t his most substantive work, but it’s so good to have him back in the saddle.

In its marrow, “Logan Lucky” is Soderbergh’s third “Ocean’s Eleven” sequel, a flighty shrimp and grits caper that willfully evokes the best – and a little of the worst – of the director’s billion dollar-grossing heist trilogy.

West Virginian Jimmy Logan (Channing Tatum) is uncermoniously laid off from his construction job at the Charlotte Motor Speedway over injury concerns and, simply enough, resolves to rob the place. Part a function of the crossroads of his life – he’s a divorced dad who doesn’t get to see his sweet beauty pageant contestant daughter Sadie (Farrah Mackenzie) nearly enough – part a need for something to pass the time, he begins by recruiting two men. First, his one-armed ex-military bartender brother Clyde (Adam Driver). Then, the character who ends up being the pic’s biggest coup: an incarcerated safecracker appropriately named Joe Bang (Daniel Craig).

Tatum and Driver are good, turning in wry performances that don’t quite hint at the depth of their capabilities. They wisely cede the stage to Soderbergh’s perfectly attuned time and place and, more importantly, Craig. For an actor who’s suddenly found himself in the 007 doldrums, Joe Bang is a godsend – for Craig, Soderbergh, and viewers all. Bang is a character in every sense of the word, the kind of half-stitch, half-deadpan comic presence so rarely afforded to leading men (Brad Pitt’s Aldo Raine in “Inglourious Basterds” is the closest analogue) and Craig hits it past the county line.

Anyone not doubled over in laughter as Joe dryly explains in his extraterrestrial twang how to make explosives out of gummy worms, bleach pens, and salt substitute just might be dead.

A plan is in place and a date is set – Jimmy knows the ins and outs of the Speedway’s tunnel system – but then, a hiccup. Construction is ending early, meaning the score will have to be moved up. As it happens, to the day of NASCAR’s big Memorial Day race: the Coca-Cola 600. Jimmy and Clyde strike the match on their elaborate, cockamamie scheme of getting Joe out of prison and then back in before anyone notices. The con is on. With Jimmy’s sister Mellie (Riley Keough) on board as driver and point person, the Logans, Joe Bang, and Joe’s thickheaded younger brothers Sam (Brian Gleeson) and Fish (Jack Quaid) head for Charlotte, prepared to initiate a game of dominoes that should see them off with trash bags full of cash from the Speedway’s new pneumatic tube system.

Soderbergh’s penchant for wide shots and natural light provides a nice counterpoint to the excess of cartoonish characters, and the screenplay – written by newcomer Rebecca Blunt, suspected to be a pen name of Soderbergh or a close associate – wields a pleasant mix of suspense and comedy. If only it were more concise. The movie flags enormously in its homestretch, marked by a stilted extended cameo from Oscar winner Hilary Swank as an FBI agent. Comedian Seth MacFarlane’s turn as a snooty British businessman and NASCAR sponsor also begins to wear here, his presence rounding out to an entirely unnecessarily narrative wrinkle.

But the “Ocean’s” films were all shaggy, too. Their reliance on excess was part of their woolly charm. “Logan Lucky” is no different, slotting in loosely, comfortably between “Twelve” and “Thirteen” as Soderbergh’s third best heist offering to date. Few will ever mention it as the best its director has to offer, but it puts another reliable two hours on his resume. If only he visited us more often.

-J. Olson

Rating: ★★★ 1/2 out of ★★★★★ (Good)

Release Date: August 18, 2017
Studio: Fingerprint Releasing, Bleecker Street
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Screenwriter: Rebecca Blunt
Starring: Channing Tatum, Adam Driver, Daniel Craig, Riley Keough, Farrah Mackenzie, Seth MacFarlane, Katie Holmes, Katherine Waterston, David Denman, Dwight Yoakam, Sebastian Stan, Brian Gleeson, Jack Quaid, Hilary Swank
MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for language and some crude comments)