Near the end of Logan Lucky, Steven Soderbergh’s new heist comedy, one of the lead characters openly wonders whether he’s doomed to repeat the past. His brother takes a more optimistic approach and proudly boasts that he’s all about the future now.
It’s an exchange meant to signal a shift in perspective since at the start of the film Channing Tatum’s Jimmy Logan was the forward-thinking one and Adam Driver’s Clyde Logan the one obsessed with the past. By the end they’ve switched roles. However, it’s also an exchange which seems to speak to Soderbergh’s inner-conflict, the past vs. future divide likely playing out in his head as he debated whether or not to make this movie. It’s like he’s trying justify this film’s very existence, telling us, “Don’t worry. Now that this Oceans 11 clone is out of my system I am ready to get back to doing new stuff again.” Soderbergh, it seems, simply had to take a step and peek back before he could go forward.
And make no mistake about it, Logan Lucky, in which Tatum and Driver’s West Virginia brothers put a motley crew together (including three bomb experts and their own sister, Riley Keough, as their own baby driver) to rob the Charlotte Motor Speedway, is even more of an Oceans 11 clone than we’ve been led to believe. Soderbergh told GQ, “Well, certainly, the Ocean’s movies specifically are an ode to professionalism and camaraderie. That’s what appealed to me about those movies. What was fun about doing Logan Lucky [in which the criminals are decidedly not professional] was it kind of attacked both of those ideas. Like, ‘What does professionalism mean in this context, when they have no idea what they’re doing?’ It’s the inversion of an Ocean’s movie.” (mild Spoiler alert for one of the better jokes: there’s even a direct Oceans reference in the film’s final third).
In practice, though, all this means is that the heist occasionally stops to crack a joke at the characters’ expense, such as when Daniel Craig’s quirky explosives expert has to draw chemical equations on a wall to explain to Jimmy and Clyde why his MacGyvered bomb will work better than simply throwing some TNT at the bank vault wall. Otherwise, the heist proceeds much as it would in an Oceans movie, with the audience kept in the dark on the overall specifics of the plan, leaving us to just follow as a carefully planned heist is put into action and carried along by snappy editing conveying an overall sense of cool and fun. These amateurs are less polished and of a completely different socio-economic status than the glorified celebrities populating the self-congratulatory world of Oceans, but they prove to be good at their jobs. Tatum’s Jimmy, in particular, gives George Clooney’s Danny a run for his money in the intricate planning department.
So, don’t go to Logan Lucky expecting to see a bunch of idiots comically adjusting as their heist attempt continually goes off the rails. I mean, that does happen, but not to the degree that you’d expect. Instead, go expecting a southern fried Oceans movie, one where part of the fun is simply adjusting your ears to Adam Driver’s hilarious attempt at a Southern accent.
Is a countrified Oceans movie a bad thing, though? Not really. The better question is whether or not it was even necessary. Logan Lucky feels like the movie equivalent of hearing a rock band or pop star release a new country version of one of their old hits, except in that situation it’s usually about a fading star attempting to glom onto the hot new thing. Here, though, Soderbergh didn’t need this movie, and even if he did going country on film doesn’t mean the same thing as it does in pop music.
Perhaps all of this commentary on my part does a disservice to the challenges Soderbergh faced in transplanting a familiar plot to a completely different setting with a comparatively rougher group of characters whose ambitions and goals are certainly more modest. For example, no one in an Oceans movie would be caught dead in a Lowes let alone work there, yet where else do you get supplies if small town West Virginia?
And perhaps I’m doing a disservice to you, the reader, by focusing way too much on the auteur of it all and less on simply answering the question of any film review: is this movie good or not?
So, let me cut to chase, then. Yes, Logan Lucky is good. It’s not as great as its 93% RottenTomatoes score, and while both Soderbergh and producer-star Tatum are from the South (the former grew up in Virginia, the latter in Alabama and Mississippi) there’s a bit too much redneck-bashing humor here, i.e., jokes which usually land but feel a tad lazy. Moreover, we never really get to know or understand any of these characters beyond Tatum’s sympathetic divorced father (his ex being played by Katie Holmes) with a leg injury and axe to grind. (His beauty queen daughter, it must be said, is beyond adorable in a very non-child actor kind of way).
However, you come for a process-oriented heist comedy, and that’s what you get, from character roundup to planning to execution to third-act complications to a final twist and delayed explanation. There’s even a compressed six-month investigation of the heist led by FBI agent Hilary Swank tacked on to the film’s final 20 minutes, leading to a Hell or High Water-esque ending (except not as serious, of course). The appeal of a film like this is watching a plan come together, and then seeing what happens when it inevitably threatens to go off the rails. You might end up walking away questioning what the characters ultimately got out of the ordeal, or puzzling over some of the finer points of their plan. However, in the moment of watching the movie unfold you’ll be sufficiently entertained, reminded that Soderbergh sure knows how to put a heist story together, even if the spark of new isn’t there anymore.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Logan Lucky may be Steven Soderbergh essentially crooning a country version of one of his greatest hits, but, dammit, what’s underneath it all is still a pretty good song.