Logan Lucky concerns itself with a small story that, in its own universe, only makes the local news, but the film itself has a wider importance. Firstly, it’s the first film from Steven Soderbergh since his ‘retirement’ in 2013, and secondly, it’s the sort of mid-budget film that would have made a major splash a decade or so ago, before the mega-franchises took over the multiplexes. With a stellar cast and enjoyably frenetic style, Logan Lucky harkens back to a recent but already rather unfamiliar era of popular cinema where high-profile actors mattered more than studio-backed brands, and who better to do so than the director of the none-more-starry Ocean’s trilogy.
Channing Tatum plays Jimmy Logan, a construction worker who has just been laid off due to the complications cause by his limp counting as a pre-existing condition on his company’s health insurance. Feeling rightfully aggrieved, he sets about planning a heist to steal a mountain of cash from the very venue that his team has been working on during the year’s biggest NASCAR race. Enlisting the help of his family curse-obsessed brother Clyde (Adam Driver), car-expert sister Mellie (Riley Keough), and explosives expert Joe Bang (Daniel Craig), Jimmy puts his charmingly low-stakes plan into action.
Our introductions to the main players are zippy and funny, with Driver in particular a real delight and Craig on rare form, clearly relishing a non-Bond role. And a non-Bond role it really is, with a broad Deep South accent, a manic disposition, peroxide blonde hair, and an abundance of prison tats. It’s a scene-stealing performance, and as Jimmy and Clyde enter Joe’s world of more serious crime, its increasingly stupid denizens provide some really great jokes, and it’s a lot of fun to watch the team come together.
Sadly, though, most of the laughs and drama are front-loaded in Logan Lucky and though Rebecca Blunt’s script starts out very strong, it becomes increasingly muddled and scattershot from the middle act onwards. More and more story strands are added to the central heist, and none of them gel together in a satisfying way. A choppiness to the editing saps the film of the flow it has already established and none of the individual elements, as enjoyable as they are, are quite strong enough to overcome this central problem. Some subplots, like the surprisingly layered relationship between Jimmy, his daughter (Farrah Mackenzie), and his ex-wife Bobbie (Katie Holmes) have an involving weight to them, but a lot of the others just get in the way.
Most egregious of these is Seth MacFarlane’s appearance as Richard Branson-esque ‘cool British billionaire’, who is in a dispute with the driver of his company sponsored NASCAR car (Sebastian Stan). The impact and point of this side-story seems to have been lost in the edit, and MacFarlane’s presence is grating in the extreme. Things perk up again when the full heist plan is revealed to us in a welcomely familiar Ocean’s-style montage, and the contrast with Soderbergh’s previous hero thieves is one of Logan Lucky most entertaining notes.
Whereas Danny Ocean et al ripped off the biggest casino in Vegas with acrobatics, RC cars, and a surfeit of slick suited-and-booted style, overall-wearing Jimmy secures his haul using little more than binbags and a friend at a landfill site. Soderbergh’s picture of the South is a stereotypical one, full of truck talk, NASCAR racing, and child beauty pageants, but not particularly judgmental, and his fondness for his characters always seeps through. A couple of swipes at the American healthcare system on behalf of the working class could have used more venom, but Soderbergh and Blunt give a sympathetic voice to this often derided part of the US in this diverting but forgettable caper.