While watching “Oceans Eleven” back in 2001 did you ever wonder what that heist comedy (directed by prolific auteur Steven Soderbergh) would be like if it was not about glamorous thieves robbing a snazzy Las Vegas casino but about a group blue collar folks from West Virginia and North Carolina who decide to rob a NASCAR track? Well, Soderbergh did, and he’s come out of retirement (from feature filmmaking) to make “Logan Lucky--” the exuberant redneck “Oceans Eleven” remake you didn’t know you wanted.
The film primarily revolves around brothers Jimmy (Channing Tatum, in his fourth collaboration with Soderbergh) and Clyde Logan (Adam Driver) who are down on their luck. Jimmy was a high school football star/failed NFL prospect, while Clyde got his hand blown off in Iraq. Believing that their entire family is cursed, they decide to rob the Charlotte Motor Speedway during a major race. It’s one of those elaborate, outrageous heists that can only be pulled off in the movies. Among other components, the brothers will need to break well-known safe buster Joe Bang (Daniel Craig) out of jail for the job and then sneak him back into jail without anyone noticing. The Logan brothers also enlist the help of Joe’s brothers, Sam (Brian Gleeson) and Fish (Jack Quaid).
Despite how that plot synopsis might read, the dramatic stakes aren’t particularly high in “Logan Lucky.” The picture’s tone is loose and playful, while the pacing is relaxed all the way through. The mechanics of the heist can be confusing and not a lot of things really go wrong, even during the extended heist sequence itself. There are a few minor narrative hiccups the characters run into along the way but overall everything goes very smoothly, perhaps too smoothly for a film about a heist. In this regard, “Logan Lucky” can feel predictable.
On top of that, the motivation for wanting to rob the racetrack in the first place is hazy and lacking in urgency. Soderbergh and screenwriter Rebecca Blunt (who may or may not be a real person) don’t establish the Logan brothers as desperate people who are caught in a bind and forced to commit a crime. Yes, they’re middle to lower class and Jimmy loses his blue-collar job at the beginning but the decision to execute the heist is treated very casually. That might have been okay, except that the film also doesn’t establish these characters as the career criminal types who would want to pull off such an elaborate crime.
And yet, “Logan Lucky” is still a lot of fun, primarily due to the cast and Blunt’s witty screenplay. In addition to Tatum and Driver, who turn in amusing and earnest performances, Soderbergh assembles a superb ensemble cast made up of young and old talent including: Daniel Craig, Riley Keough, Katie Holmes, Dwight Yoakam, Hilary Swank and Katherine Waterston, among others. Some of these actors only pop in for a scene or two (usually in a nonchalant manner) but they always make a memorably goofy impression. Also, can I say how great it is to see Craig playing a character that isn’t Bond, especially an eccentric, bleach blonde haired safe buster? Mr. Craig, you’ve been missed.
Aside from the cast, what keeps us engaged in “Logan Lucky” are the small comedic moments and details rather than the broad narrative beats. The nutty, bumbling interactions between the Logan and Bang brothers as they painstakingly plan the robbery. Those little quirks that make the characters feel human instead of comedic caricatures (Clyde’s insistence that he lost his hand and not his arm). Those off beat, absurdist scenes that make you forget about the film’s predictable nature.
For example, the Logan brothers meet one of Joe’s contacts nicknamed “The Bear” to acquire some materials for the heist, who turns out to be a man in a bear suit; a delightfully out of left moment that generated a hardy laugh from the audience at my preview screening. On a scene-by-scene basis, “Logan Lucky” is packed with laughs. It may not be great but Soderbergh’s return to filmmaking is a light, entertaining affair.