Logan Lucky is a movie that seemed destined to bomb from the moment its first trailers appeared. Despite its A-list cast (Channing Tatum, Daniel Craig, Adam Driver, Katie Holmes, Hillary Swank) and an arguably A-list director in Steven Soderbergh, it is a film that proved a challenge to market. A redneck heist movie at a NASCAR stadium hardly seems like a plot to hawk to the masses. Then there’s that title. “Logan Lucky” must be one of the worst film names I’ve seen in years. It says nothing about the movie, has no meaning to an audience who haven’t read a plot synopsis, and is devoid of any wit or suggestion of tone. As of writing, the film has only just made half of its lean $29 million budget back within two weeks of its US release. It’s a shame, as audiences who give it their time will find a unique and entertaining caper beneath the muddied and confusing exterior.
That title refers to the Logan family, primarily brothers Jimmy (Tatum) and Clyde (Driver). Jimmy is a down to earth construction worker, laid off of his job at the Charlotte Motor Speedway because of his undisclosed injured leg. His life revolves around his young daughter, and negotiating awkward, tense encounters with his ex-wife Bobbi Jo (Holmes) in order to see her. Angry and disillusioned following his firing, he visits his bartender brother, an Iraq war veteran with an arm amputation. Together they put in motion a plot to rob the speedway during one of its busiest days of the year, but they’ll need the help of infamous vault infiltrator Joe Bang (a moniker that teeters between the sublime and the ridiculous, just like his character), who happens to be incarcerated in the local prison.
Logan Lucky is carried by the quality of its performers. As the aforementioned Joe Bang, it’s refreshing to see Craig return to the sort of character acting that he built his reputation on. His twitchy, intense turn reminded me of his performance in the 2005 mind-bender The Jacket, a role which, along with Layer Cake, announced him as a genuine screen talent. Meanwhile Tatum takes the lead role and plays the charismatic blue-collar everyman with aplomb. Despite his reputation as a heartthrob, Tatum is always able to find the heart of his characters, and in Logan Lucky he again proves that he is one of Hollywood’s most undervalued leading men. Then there’s Adam Driver, channeling the sort of deadpan performance you’d expect to see in an early Wes Anderson film, with amusing if occasionally jarring results.
Logan Lucky rises and falls with Rebecca Blunt’s (which may or may not be an alias for Soderbergh) screenplay. She/he packs a huge amount in (a large scale robbery, breaking in to a prison, breaking out of a prison, breaking back in to the prison, prosthetic limb sight gags, and the eternally skin crawling beauty pageant fixation of the American South) to varying degrees of success. The parallels with the Oceans movies are crystal clear, and while Logan Lucky has more grit and heart than those sparkly (and occasionally hollow) movies, it also lacks some of their edge and showmanship.
Soderbergh is trying to pitch us “the anti Ocean’s Eleven” of sorts. These characters are poor, speak in Southern drawls have no gadgets or flash cars (Jimmy doesn’t even own a phone). They have to jack any cars they want to use and improvise with whatever items they have at hand to infiltrate the labyrinthine arena (Joe’s creative use of gummy bears makes for one of the film’s best scenes.) At times this concept seems a little too contrived and the cartoonish nature of some of the characters betrays the greasy, earthy mood Soderbergh needs to shoot for in order to see his premise through to fruition.
With characters as arch as these and a narrative that keeps you guessing, Logan Lucky is missing the witty dialogue or edgy satire needed to elevate it beyond a good night out at the flicks. Through squinted eyes you might mistake it for a Coen Brothers film, with its madcap narrative and dry, surreal humour. Seen clearly though, it lacks the commitment to that kind of experimental tone or the concise thematic complexity to reach those kinds of heights. As it is, it’s simply an engaging, well-cast heist film with a bloody awful name.