Logan Lucky

A Southern tall tale

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Steven Soderbergh’s Logan Lucky is a high-spirited, lowdown blast. It’s a let’s-rob-the-racetrack heist comedy set in that all-American place that even rednecks would have no problem calling redneck country: the land of NASCAR and child beauty pageants, spangly long fingernails and roadside biker-bar brawls, and—these days being what they are—chronic unemployment and spiritual stagnation. The script, by Rebecca Blunt (it’s her first, and it’s a beauty), exploits the Southern gift for turning something as basic as a series of freeway directions into a tall tale.

Logan Lucky turns out to be a sharply observant tall tale all its own, a movie that taps into the shifting dynamics of Trump country (though the T-word itself is never mentioned). After a prologue that features the twin fetishes of John Denver nostalgia and pickup-truck repair, the action gets set in motion when Jimmy Logan (Channing Tatum), a beefy divorced dad who lives in a tin-walled shack in Boone County, West Virginia, loses his latest hard-hat gig, all because someone from human resources spied him walking with a slight limp, which could signal a pre-existing condition, which could prove actionable. Actually, it’s just an old football injury, and yes, he should have mentioned it on his application form. Yet the timely corporate injustice of this here-today-gone-tomorrow layoff tells you all you need to know about the prospects for Jimmy’s future: There are none.

That’s why he feels utterly justified—and so does the audience—when he decides to go for broke by robbing the Charlotte Motor Speedway in Concord, North Carolina. That’s where he was driving a bulldozer underground to repair sinkholes when he made a startling observation: All the money that comes into the racing complex gets moved through an old-fashioned pneumatic tube transport system (PTT), a network of snake-like cylinders that wind their way underground and funnel the money into a steel bank vault. Because of the repair work, the vault’s seismic-sensor alarm system has been turned off. And those tubes? They’re the all-too-easy way in.

Soderbergh, of course, is the king of the modern movie heist caper, and Logan Lucky is an obvious cousin to his Ocean’s films, though it’s hardly Ocean’s Fourteen in white-trash drag. The heist is diabolically clever, but only rarely does it feel movie clever. It has a homemade, gimcrack, screw-top quality that marks it as a pure product of the down-home Southern imagination, and the way Soderbergh has directed the movie, rooting it in an authenticity of locale, manners and economics, it could almost pass for a true-life crime drama.

Logan puts a team together to commit the heist, starting with his younger brother, Clyde (Adam Driver), a sad-sack bartender who lost his forearm during one of two tours of duty in Iraq. The two share a sense of living out the “Logan curse,” a community legend that basically boils down to the fact that they’re both ne’er-do-wells who’ve been on a downward track since high school. Clyde, who wears the legend heavily, is a conspiracy nut who speaks with robotic gloom, and Driver makes him a sympathetic semi-crackpot who’s attached, in more ways than one, to his fake arm (it’s his best friend).

Their key accomplice is Joe Bang, an explosives expert played, with a savagely fast and funny spark, by Daniel Craig as a snaky hillbilly varmint in a platinum-blond buzzcut. Since Joe is serving a prison sentence, they have to break him out of the slammer and then back in with no one noticing, a plan that proves nearly as complicated as the heist itself. But it’s worth the effort, since only Joe—a hayseed chemistry wizard—would know how to build a bomb out of bleach tabs, fake salt, and Gummy Bears. In just about every heist film, we’re told what the plan is before it’s hatched, but in Logan Lucky we watch the robbery unfold without having any idea where it’s going, and that gives it a jerry-rigged quality that’s at once hilarious, suspenseful and plausible (well, sort of).

There are other offbeat and engaging characters, like Jack Quaid and Brian Gleeson as Joe Bang’s siblings, who complete the heist team (they’re even further down on the backwoods totem pole); Seth MacFarlane as a skin-crawlingly obnoxious British sports-car magnate; Dwight Yoakam (cast hilariously against type) as a prison warden who sweeps his petty scandals under the rug; Hilary Swank as an FBI agent; Katie Holmes as Jimmy’s scalding ex-wife; and the magnetic Riley Keough as the Logans’ hairdresser sister. They’re all terrific company, and so is the movie, even when it takes a last-act twist that heightens its vantage but deflates a bit of its energy. Still, that’s a minor quibble. Logan Lucky is Soderbergh in midseason form, and there should be a solid summer niche for a movie that’s this much rip-snorting fun.

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