I was tinkering with an expression like “Backwater Ocean’s Eleven” or “Blue Collar Ocean’s Eleven” to describe Logan Lucky, but then sure enough, Steven Soderbergh, self-aware as ever, comes up with “Ocean’s 7/11.” It may look stupid and quaint, but just like the characters in this movie, it’s actually a lot smarter than you.
Logan Lucky is a pure heist movie, but set in Appalachia with a group of Good ‘Ol Boys subbing in for George Clooney and Brad Pitt. They’re planning quickly, we’re learning the stages of the heist on the fly, and just as in Soderbergh’s Ocean’s, the film slyly withholds the twist details of how they dunnit until everyone’s in the clear. But listening to these hicks talk and strategize, it’s as if they’re all stuck in molasses. It’s a hilarious departure from the Rat Pack slick act.
Here’s the score: Jimmy Logan (Channing Tatum) has just been let go from his job doing construction underneath the Charlotte Motor Speedway. He convinces his brother Clyde (Adam Driver), a one-armed (excuse me, “one-handed”) war vet and bartender, that together they can swipe from the speedway’s vault while everyone is distracted on race day. All they need is a team.
Here’s where things get interesting. The one man who can detonate the vault so they can reach the cash is Joe Bang, played by none other than Daniel Craig, James Bond himself, having a total ball in the role. He’s got short, bleached blonde hair, tattoos on a hulking frame and a sodium problem that causes him to carry around a shaker full of “Fake salt” to put on his hard-boiled eggs. The Logans tell him the plan, and he helpfully reminds them that he is “in-car-cer-a-TED!” Craig’s thick, high-pitched accent and jumpy spark help him steal the show.
If Ocean’s Eleven worked because the stakes seemed impossible but everyone was so cool under pressure, Logan Lucky works because these guys look and act like knuckleheads, yet somehow everything works out and then some. Once they’ve made it into the vault, Joe takes out a plastic bag, some bleach pens and some gummi bears and mixes them together. And just when you think it couldn’t get any dumber, he writes in chalk on the vault wall the formula that explains why this isn’t a horrible idea.
Soderbergh is the master of the mid-range shot. For as loony as “Logan Lucky” sometimes feels, it has a crisp, economical shine to everything. What would be a throwaway pair of shots for one director of Jimmy throwing his helmet into an open container, Soderbergh does it swiftly, keeping the energy and the surprise of the film going. We see it in a bar fight scene and during the course of the heist. Soderbergh always keeps us guessing.
In the first scene of Logan Lucky, Jimmy is working on a car with his young daughter, telling her the story behind John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Road.” “I like it for the song, but also for the story behind it.” The story of Logan Lucky has been that it’s the movie that got Soderbergh out of retirement from film. If you haven’t seen many ads for it, it’s because Soderbergh released and marketed it independently, trying to circumvent all the studio BS that made him resist the process in the first place. Unfortunately, the idea that it’s a heist movie in the vein of Ocean’s Eleven has escaped most people.
You can enjoy Logan Lucky for the movie, but also for the heart and Southern charm within the film, as well as the experiment that led to giving us such a surprise, summer movie gem.
3 ½ stars