The Unusual Suspects

Steven Soderbergh comes out of retirement for the breezy, Southern-fried heist comedy Logan Lucky

Another heist comedy from Soderbergh, but this time there's gravy.
Another heist comedy from Soderbergh, but this time there's gravy.

Steven Soderbergh tried to retire a few years ago, but it didn't take. Perhaps he can relate to Jimmy Logan (Channing Tatum), the lovable West Virginian ne'er-do-well at the center of Logan Lucky who tries to make an honest living, but keeps coming back to the bullet-pointed plan for robbing a bank that's posted on his kitchen wall.

Logan Lucky is a heist comedy like Soderbergh's Ocean's trilogy, mixed with the Coen Brothers-esque condescension of his The Informant! and the shaggy, unhurried pace of his Magic Mike. Written by first-timer Rebecca Blunt (which may or may not be the pseudonym of an unknown author), the film is as sunny and implausible as an old-timer's anecdote, with a few hints at topicality (coal miners, economic anxiety, Game of Thrones) that don't detract from its insouciance. It's fun for fun's sake. The conscience only nags a little bit.

Jimmy, a former high school football hero who's now paunchy and bad-kneed, is an out-of-work coal miner whose most recent job was on a project shoring up the tunnels under the Charlotte Motor Speedway in North Carolina, a couple hundred miles south of the the West Virginia county where Jimmy and a lot of other drawling rednecks live. His brother, Clyde (Adam Driver), missing half an arm from a tour in Iraq, is a bartender who believes the Logan family is cursed, citing as examples his arm, "Pawpaw's diamond, Uncle Stickly's electrocution," and so forth. Their sister, Mellie (Riley Keough), works in a beauty parlor, but her real skills are behind the wheel.

Jimmy is close to his daughter, Sadie (Farrah Mackenzie), who's about 10 and currently into beauty pageants, though she's also a good assistant when Jimmy's working on his truck. Sadie's mom, Bobbie Jo (Katie Holmes), exasperated from years of dealing with Jimmy's unreliability, has a new husband, Moody Chapman (David Denman), who owns a Ford dealership but can't drive a stick. This is a culture where that sort of thing matters, masculinity-wise.

Family curse notwithstanding, Jimmy enlists his siblings to help with a plan to steal the cash out of the Charlotte Motor Speedway's vault on a busy event day. For us, the plan is made all the more delicious by the fact that one of its key participants will need to be broken out of jail so he can help, then returned back to his cell before he's missed. That'd be Joe Bang (Daniel Craig), a bleach-blond explosives expert whose drawl is the drawliest of them all. Joe's idiot brothers (Brian Gleeson and Jack Quaid) are, at his insistence, also involved, but they're such screw-ups that even a screw-up like Jimmy Logan finds them frustrating.

Once the plot is in motion, Soderbergh sits back, puts his feet up, and lets things unfold casually. Sure, as a heist caper it has its requisite twists and switcheroos, and a few moments of giddy "will they get caught?" tension. But Soderbergh allows plenty of time to enjoy the amusements of the screenplay: Jimmy and Clyde's dopey brotherly rapport; Mellie's taunting of her ex-sister-in-law's new husband; Joe Bang's crafty intellect and unpredictability; the prison warden's (Dwight Yoakam) smug arrogance ("We don't have shit at Monroe" is his mantra, spoken every time shit happens at Monroe). It's the kind of heist film that can pause mid-heist for one of the principals to give his co-conspirators an impromptu chemistry lesson, for no better narrative reason than that it would be funny to do so.

The film takes broad swipes at West Virginia white-trash bumpkins. Joe Bang's brothers are the biggest targets — misspelled tattoos, frequent malapropisms, a reverence for NASCAR — but the whole enterprise is full of rubes and goobers for us to laugh at. Tatum and Driver are semi-serious about giving the Logan brothers depth, but there's always the sense that they're mocking them at the same time, play-acting like hillbillies. Which is fine if it's funny, and it generally is. Meanwhile, Daniel Craig is doing his own crazy thing as Joe Bang, and seems to love every minute of it (as do I).

One aspect that sticks out like a sore thumb is a subplot with Seth MacFarlane, doing a mediocre English accent as an aggressively douchey energy-drink mogul who sponsors a NASCAR driver. Where everyone else is doing their level best to bring the stock characters to life, MacFarlane plays Max Chilblain like a villain in a comedy sketch. (Of all the people in the world to play a British jerk, why Seth MacFarlane?) It's like you're watching Ocean's Eleven and next to Clooney, Pitt and Damon, there's Rob Schneider's "makin' copies" guy from Saturday Night Live.

But that's only a minor dent in what is admittedly a leisurely, off-the-cuff sort of movie about whimsical decisions. Steven Soderbergh can make as many of those as he wants if it means he stays unretired.♦

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