Four years after announcing his “retirement” from directing feature films, Oscar winner Steven Soderbergh is back behind the camera for another big-screen movie. But this time he is in total control overseeing the marketing and distribution in addition to directing, editing (as Mary Ann Bernard) and acting as his own cinematographer (under the pseudonym Peter Andrews) of the cool Southern heist film Logan Lucky, which some already have dubbed “Ocean’s 7-Eleven.” And what he and a mystery screenwriter by the name of Rebecca Blunt (speculation is all over the map about who this really is) have cooked up is a deliciously amusing and entertaining film in the genre, a kind of good ol’ boys version of his Ocean’s 11 franchise.
Smart, clever and hilarious it is fun from start to finish line, stealing perhaps more laughs than any movie this summer but also having some meat on its bones as it presents the desperation of working-class stiffs who essentially have been stiffed by society. As I say in my video review (click the link above to watch), the plot and the movie are enhanced greatly by a terrific cast led by Channing Tatum and Adam Driver as brothers who put together a gang to rob the Charlotte Motor Speedway right in the middle of the Coca Cola 600 NASCAR race on Memorial Day. Tatum plays Jimmy Logan, a down-on-his-luck guy who has just lost his job driving heavy equipment, as well as custody rights to his daughter to his ex-wife (Katie Holmes). Desperate, he hatches a plan after visiting his Iraq War vet brother Clyde (Driver) at his bar where he presides with a prosthetic arm that actually is the butt of some pretty funny bits itself.
Jimmy knows the inner workings of the speedway very well, having worked during its construction, so his elaborate plot to make off with garbage bags full of cash isn’t that far-fetched, and nicely detailed under Soderbergh’s usual immaculate guidance. This is one director who knows this genre well and makes it work splendidly again. Along for the ride is scene stealer Daniel Craig, losing his James Bond persona completely as a crewcutted blond inmate named Joe Bang. He is needed because he is an expert at blowing up bank vaults, and after he is promised that he can safely break out of prison and right back in before anyone notices, he’s gone and it is game on. It somehow seems credible that he can do this, and it all adds to the fun, as do Jack Quaid and Brian Gleeson as his dimwitted born-again Bang brothers Fish and Sam. There is also Jimmy’s and Clyde’s sister Mellie (Riley Keough), who proves to be a welcome accomplice as well. Seth MacFarlane scores laughs as the curly-haired British race team owner Max, though some of his material, however brief, falls flat. Even Hillary Swank turns up as a rather oddball FBI agent in the film’s final act.
There is a lot of deadpan humor throughout, but this clever movie doesn’t resort to Southern stereotypes. It’s also socially conscious in subtle ways that give it more gravitas than might be expected from a comedy that first and foremost just wants to entertain. That it does, indeed.
Producers are Mark Johnson, Reid Carolin, Gregory Jacobs and Tatum. The unique rollout of this film from Soderbergh’s Fingerprint Releasing and Bleecker Street is a grand experiment designed to put out a studio film without the baggage of a studio. Former Warner Bros President of Distribution Dan Fellman is an executive producer, and you just know his expertise and relationship with theaters certainly was helpful for the Logan Lucky theatrical break Friday in some 2,500 theaters.
Do you plan to see Logan Lucky? Let us know what you think.