Arriving months after the release of “Logan” and weeks before the release of “Lucky,” here comes “Logan Lucky,” a breezy and clever heist romp with no relation to the other two movies, which have no relation to one another. It’s just a weird coincidence to have movies called “Logan” and “Lucky” and “Logan Lucky” all in the same year.
To quote the Eagles: Are you with me so far?
Directed by the versatile and prolific Steven Soderbergh, who since “retiring” from feature films a few years ago has been busy directing the fantastic HBO movie “Behind the Candelabra” and the brilliant TV series “The Knick” (and working as the cinematographer for “Magic Mike XXL”), “Logan Lucky” actually has quite a bit in common with Soderbergh’s star-studded hit “Ocean’s 11.”
Trade in the pearl-toothed slicksters played by George Clooney and Brad Pitt for a couple of twang-talkin’ dirt-kickers played by Channing Tatum and Adam Driver, move the setting from glitzy Las Vegas to down-home North Carolina, and “Logan Lucky” plays like a scaled-down, biscuits-and-gravy take on the “Ocean’s” movies.
In fact, a TV news anchor reporting on the heist in “Logan Lucky” refers to it as the “Ocean’s 7-Eleven” caper.
Tatum (a Soderbergh favorite) gives one of the most natural and likable performances of his career as Jimmy Logan, a former high school football star with a slightly softened but still hulking physique, and a noticeable limp from the injury that cut short his gridiron career.
It’s the limp — an unreported “pre-existing condition” — that gets Jimmy fired from his job with a crew repairing a giant sinkhole directly underneath the Charlotte Motor Speedway.
This leaves Jimmy unemployed, nearly broke and in desperate need of a quick score so he can prove fiscal stability and maintain partial custody of his adorable and precocious daughter Sadie (Farrah MacKenzie). The timing is especially crucial because Jimmy’s no-nonsense ex-wife (Katie Holmes) has just announced she and her hubby are about to move the family to West Virginia. She’s ACHING for Jimmy to give her an opening to essentially remove him from Sadie’s life.
Brainstorm! Jimmy hatches a brazen plan to steal the cash from the speedway’s underground network of money-transferring pneumatic tubes. (When the registers at concessions throughout the enormous stadium fill up, cashiers drop the money in the tubes, and the bills are funneled into a giant vault.)
It’s not so different from Danny Ocean’s scheme to boost a fortune from the Bellagio’s underground vault. And just as Danny recruited a band of misfit associates with checkered pasts to pull off the elaborate heist, Jimmy enlists the aid of similarly dysfunctional and quite hilarious goofballs, including:
• Jimmy’s brother Clyde (Adam Driver), a sad-sack bartender who lost the lower part of one arm on a tour of duty in Iraq and sports a ridiculously ill fitting prosthetic that looks like it was made for the Hulk.
• Their sister Mellie (Riley Keough), a sharp-tongued hairdresser with behind-the-wheel skills just a notch below those of Baby Driver.
• The muscled, heavily tattooed explosives expert Joe Bang (Daniel Craig), so named because this is the kind of movie unafraid to call a slightly mad bomber “Joe Bang.” As it happens, Joe Bang is behind bars, so the Logan brothers concoct a plan to break him out of prison so he can participate in the robbery, and then break him back IN before anyone notices he’s missing.
• Joe Bang’s idiot brothers (Brian Gleeson and Jack Quaid), born-again crooks who now require a “moral reason” to rationalize any further criminal activity.
Working from a smart (if obviously derivative) screenplay by first-time screenwriter Rebecca Blunt and acting as his own cinematographer, Soderbergh deftly juggles multiple, interweaving storylines and sprinkles in a number of oddball characters, including Seth MacFarlane’s obnoxious energy-drink mogul, who is sponsoring a car in the Coca-Cola 600 at the speedway; Hillary Swank’s socially stiff FBI agent, and Dwight Yoakam’s image-conscious prison warden.
Some of the set pieces have at best tenuous connections to the main story line. Rioting prisoners take guards hostage — and then present a list of demands that will be tough to meet, due to George R.R. Martin’s “Game of Thrones” books falling behind the timeline of the HBO series. (No really.) A children’s pageant turns into a John Denver sing-along, and that’s the fourth movie this year (after “Alien: Covenant” and “Free Fire” and “Okja”) to prominently feature the gentle, 1970s folk-rock musings of the late John Denver.
Even with all the deep-fried humor and the sometimes over-the-hilltop accents (Driver in particular pushes it with his vocal tics, but his accent grew on me), “Logan Lucky” almost never feels condescending or Hollywood smug. More than one of these seemingly simple folks turns out to be whip-smart in a certain fashion.
Not everything works. MacFarlane’s turn as a Brit blowhard comes across as forced (the dollar-store wig and cheesy mustache don’t help). And even when all is revealed in classic “Ocean’s” fashion, it feels as if a piece or two of the jigsaw puzzle is still on the floor somewhere.
Mostly, though, “Logan Lucky” is great fun and one of the most purely entertaining movies of the year.
Bleecker Street presents a film directed by Steven Soderbergh and written by Rebecca Blunt. Rated PG-13 (for language and some crude comments). Running time: 119 minutes. Opens Friday at local theaters.
‘Lucky’ scriptwriter a mysterious figure
According to an article in the Hollywood Reporter, the first-time screenwriter Rebecca Blunt “likely doesn’t exist.” The article says Soderbergh’s wife, longtime E! host Jules Asner, could have written the script. It also quotes an “insider” who says Soderbergh himself is the author.
Asked by Entertainment Weekly about the Hollywood Reporter piece, Soderbergh said, “Well, that’s going to be news to Rebecca Blunt. When people make a statement like that, they should be very careful, especially when it’s a woman screenwriter who is having her first screenplay produced.”
Soderbergh (who has a history of using pseudonyms for his own editing and cinematography work), told EW Blunt is busy working on her next project, and didn’t want to do any publicity for “Logan Lucky” until after the movie opens.
Really? A novice screenwriter with no track record writes a script clearly influenced by the “Ocean’s” movies, and the script is miraculously turned into a movie directed by none other than “Ocean’s” director Steven Soderbergh, but she’s TOO BUSY WORKING ON HER NEXT PROJECT to be bothered with celebrating in public and telling the amazing story of how this all happened?