We didn’t take it very well when Steven Soderbergh announced in 2013 that he’d had it with feature filmmaking. How could we be losing the sly, iconoclastic, technically savvy director who had given us Traffic, Sex, Lies, and Videotape, Che, Out of Sight and the aughties Ocean’s saga? Turns out a restless, brilliant workaholic like Soderbergh couldn’t go AWOL for good. After all, he quietly shot two fantastic seasons of The Knick and was executive producer on The Girlfriend Experience and Red Oaks. (He also had a hand in both Magic Mike movies, but let’s move on). And now, he’s back on the bigger screen with Logan Lucky, a light, twangy Southern fried caper flick that’s just a hoot and a holler away from a full-on Ocean’s Eleven parody/apology/homage. You’d never know he’d been away.
The movie feels so confident and in the zone, it’s as if Soderbergh directed this thing while nursing tumblers of Southern Comfort. And though we wish he were sinking his teeth into the ambitious, complex level of filmmaking he’s capable of, Soderbergh lite isn’t such a bad thing. Rebecca Blunt’s screenplay provides good roles for Channing Tatum and Adam Driver as a pair of brothers scraping by in rural West Virginia. Driver (who struggles with his thick accent) plays Clyde, an understandably mopey guy who lost a limb in the service and now runs a local bar. Clyde is dead-set on believing that a can’t-win-for-losing curse hangs over him and his frustrated construction worker brother Jimmy. Underemployed, out of shape, sad-eyed Jimmy is itching to prove him wrong and wants to be a good provider for his daughter who lives with his estranged, brittle wife (Katie Holmes, way more persuasive than expected).
So what’s his play? Pull a daring NASCAR heist during a big race in North Carolina, that’s what.
To help them set the plan in motion, Jimmy and Clyde patch together a motley crew of up-against-it accomplices including a horndog explosives ace needing to be sprung from prison (bleached blond Daniel Craig in funny, funky form), his bumblefuck stoner kin who do all the grunt work (Jack Quaid, Brian Gleeson) and, best of all, their nervy hairdresser sister (a scene-grabbing Riley Keough) who never misses a beat or breaks a sweat. Of course, the intricate scheme doesn’t go quite as expected but, then again, neither does the wayward, quietly loopy movie. It’s got a sweet, good-timey tang that occasionally feels like a throwback to Burt Reynolds’ good ole boys movies of the 1970s, only with a bleary-eyed Tatum instead. The performances are loose and perfectly in synch with the movie’s shambling, no-sweat tone.
There are bumps in the road whenever we’re met with Seth MacFarlane, doing a jarring, barn door-wide turn as a douchey Brit racecar sponsor, and Hillary Swank, who plays an investigator trailing the brothers and seems to have bungee-jumped in from a far less cool movie. They bring the movie to a dead halt. But, hey, with Logan Lucky, Soderbergh, one of our most inventive and unpredictable directors, just wants to have fun and bring the audience in on it. That’s going to be all right with a lot of us.
Read more of Stephen Rebello’s movie reviews here.