I don't think anyone seriously believed Steven Soderbergh in 2013 when he announced, (not for the first time), that he would be retiring from feature films. And, indeed, that retirement ended up being more of a hiatus, as his focus moved to TV projects. Now he's back with the self-marketed caper comedy , his first theatrical feature since 2013's Side Effects.
Set in the world of NASCAR, the film has obvious similarities to the Ocean's franchise (someone in the film even uses the phrase "Ocean's 7-Eleven" to describe the culprits). While the caper aspect definitely invites that comparison, I found it also brought to mind 1998's Out of Sight, my favorite Soderbergh film, for both its inclusions of more middle-to-lower class criminal masterminds (some of whom are slightly lacking in the mind department) and its clever use of flashbacks.
Channing Tatum is Jimmy Logan, a former small-town football star who lost his chance to make it to the NFL after an accident left him with a bad knee. His brother Clyde (Adam Driver) lost his forearm at the very end of his military service in Iraq, so he tends to believe the local legend that the Logan family is cursed with a permanent unlucky streak.
When Jimmy loses his job as a tractor driver for failing to report his minor disability on his job forms and his ex-wife (Katie Holmes) announces she and her new family will be moving out of state and taking their daughter with her, Jimmy realizes he better come up with some money fast, if only to pay for a lawyer to fight for custody.
Jimmy's construction job was under the Charlotte Motor Speedway in North Carolina, repairing sinkholes that had started to plague the track. In the course of his work, he learned the facility uses a pneumatic tube system to deliver cash from food and beverage vendors into a vault under the speedway. And thus, a plan to break into the vault is hatched.
Despite trepidation over the whole family curse thing, Jimmy convinces Clyde to come on board, and they both seek out the help of notorious safe cracker Joe Bang (Daniel Craig). As his name may suggest, he's less a safe cracker, and more of a safe-exploder. The one problem is that Joe Bang is in prison, due for release in a few months, and that's time the boys can't wait out. So, a plan to break Joe out and then back INTO prison is added to the caper.
The screenplay by Rebecca Blunt (who, most likely, doesn't actually exist) doesn't lay out the entirety of their plan up front, instead slowly letting the audience in on a scheme that includes the use of cockroaches, fake salt, and gummi bears, as well as the addition of more team members, including Joe Bang's slightly dim brothers Sam and Fish Bang (Brian Gleeson and Jack Quaid, both hilarious) and Jimmy and Clyde's sister Mellie (Riley Keough), a hairdresser and ace getaway driver who should get her own movie.
Soderbergh's comedies have one winning thing in common, and that's an authenticity and looseness that comes from his actors and their dialog. Some might argue that he's painting these Southerners with a broad brush, and Driver definitely lays on the hee-haw accent a little thick. But there's never a feeling that he's looking down on them or Southern culture in general. And while the actors definitely have fun with their characters (particularly Daniel Craig, who I would have never even considered a possibility for an American comedy), they never mock them.
Logan Lucky also manages to play against expectations. It's a heist movie set at a NASCAR race and hardly features any actual race footage. It's a crime story in which no guns are shot, and what violence does happen is against a truly despicable character (appropriately played by Seth MacFarlane). There's even a prison riot that culminates in a hilarious bit of back-and-forth negotiations between a despicable warden (Dwight Yoakam) and a prisoner, centered on Game of Thrones.
It also manages to work in a completely unexpected final act that is only slightly soured by the addition of Hilary Swank as an FBI investigator whose only purpose seems to be to give the movie the type of ending it doesn't really need. But that's a minor complaint. It's rare that you can enter a film with full confidence that everyone involved knows what they're doing, and they're going to be excellent doing it. And in that way, Logan Lucky is the ultimate caper.Logan Lucky