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 Takes the Checkered Flag

Channing Tatum
Channing Tatum
Bleecker Street
 118 Minutes
Rated: PG-13
Directed by: Steven Soderbergh
Starring: Channing Tatum, Adam Driver, Daniel Craig 
Logan Lucky

If there’s one stereotype that’s still acceptable in today’s Hollywood, it’s the dumb redneck. Further, a good rule to apply in redneck movies is the thicker the drawl, the dumber the character. So, leave it to an inventive director like Steven Soderbergh to turn those conventions, along with audience expectations, on their ears in Logan Lucky, a thoroughly enjoyable movie with a cast that features a tattoo-laden character named Joe Bang (who is, not surprisingly, an explosives expert) and a pair of brothers named Jimmy and Clyde, all of whom wind up pulling off a very intelligent heist.


Soderbergh, of course, is a past master of heist films like Ocean’s Eleven and its progeny, as well as other tricky crime films featuring very shrewd characters, such as The Limey and Out of Sight. But Logan Lucky is a horse of a very different color, more like Ocean’s 7-11 (an actual joke in the movie). The criminal masterminds in the movie are the Logans, Jimmy (Channing Tatum) and Clyde (Adam Driver). Jimmy just got laid off from a construction job, while Clyde, who lost part of an arm in Iraq, tends bar. So, they decide to pull off a robbery, and not just any robbery, but helping themselves to the the proceeds from a major NASCAR race at the Charlotte Motor Speedway, the site where Jimmy spent months digging underground tunnels, during which time he discovered that the Speedway stashes a lot of cash in a vault that can be accessed from those tunnels.


To pull off the robbery, they’re going to need someone with some explosives expertise, namely, the aforementioned Joe Bang (Daniel Craig). Unfortunately, Joe’s in prison, which means they have to break him out and then break him back in again after the robbery, so the movie quickly morphs from a heist film into a jailbreak, heist, and second jailbreak film. And, like a typical episode of the Mission Impossible TV show, Soderbergh reveals just enough of the plan in advance to tantalize viewers, thus, allowing for plenty of surprises as the heist unfolds.


Logan Lucky is a masterful exercise in film craftsmanship by Soderbergh and the screenwriter, who is listed as newcomer Rebecca Blunt, but is rumored to be either Soderbergh or his wife Jules Asner. In most redneck capers, like Smoky and the Bandit or typical episodes of The Dukes of Hazzard, those pulling off the caper are clearly the most intelligent characters in the movie. That’s not the case here. Instead, the Logans utter phrases like “I looked it up on the Google,” spoken with the utmost sincerity. Nor are the authority figures mindless caricatures like Boss Hogg. Instead, they are simply nearly faceless suits going about their business. After all, NASCAR is a major backer of the film and didn’t want to be portrayed as too stupid or too sinister.


Since Logan Lucky doesn’t really have an antagonist, other than a pompous English buffoon overplayed by Seth MacFarlane in a needless subplot, who insults the Logans and provokes a fight early in the movie, Soderbergh works overtime, and largely succeeds, in making the Logans likable, so the audience will be solidly on their side, despite their criminal tendencies. Thus, the first scene in the film introduces Jimmy as a single father, who needs some money to try to stay close to his movie-adorable daughter (leading to a predictable but quite touching moment late in the film). Similarly, Clyde gets to recount the story about what led to his service in Iraq and the Logan curse, the bad luck that he says has hounded his family for years. It might be hokey, but here it works.


The centerpiece of Logan Lucky, of course, is the robbery, and the entire sequence, along with the bookend jailbreaks, takes up nearly half of the movie. Unlike most heist thrillers that depend on rapid cuts and edits to maintain tension, Soderbergh opts for a slower pace, in keeping with the overall deceptively easy going feel of the movie. At times, in fact, the pace is a bit too slow; the movie should have been about 15 minutes shorter. But the pauses and drawls here don’t indicate dense characters; instead, the beauty of the movie is just how clever the characters actually are. As each step goes by, the audience increasingly realizes how well they have plotted things out.


Soderbergh also opts for a twist ending to the movie that wraps up some of the loose ends and explains a seemingly unbelievable decision one of the characters makes towards the end of the movie. This sequence somewhat mimics what he did in the Ocean films and is one of the few really rapidly paced parts of the movie. In fact, the scene moves so quickly that it might catch some of the audience by surprise.


The best trick Soderbergh pulls off in the movie is that neither he nor his talented cast appears condescending. It would have been very easy for this film to have descended into ridicule of the characters, but Soderbergh keeps making his admiration for the characters and their values clear. To do so, he even employs the old John Denver favorite, “Almost Heaven,” which Jimmy tells his daughter is his own personal favorite (although the robbery takes place in Charlotte, the Logans live in West Virginia). That leads to the film’s emotional punchline, one that’s familiar but still manages to score with the audience.


Steven Soderbergh “retired” from feature films for four years (although he scored an Emmy for directing Behind the Candelabra during that time), but the time off hasn’t affected him one bit. It’s refreshing to watch a movie that relies on old-fashioned smarts as well as old-fashioned technique (nary a CGI effect to be found) and old-fashioned intelligence, albeit well camouflaged. Sadly, the only thing he hasn’t done well is figure out how to market Logan Lucky, with both the hip crowd and the NASCAR audience wary of it for different reasons. Still, Logan Lucky easily takes the checkered flag.    

In this scene, Daniel Craig discusses the pros and cons of the robbery with Channing Tatum and Adam Driver.

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Logan Lucky (2017) on IMDb