Steven Soderbergh’s Logan Lucky is a heist caper that, to be fair, does what it says on the can. There is a heist. It is a caper. It also features an all-star cast and is said to be ‘the perfect summer entertainment’, which may or may not wash, depending on whether you believe the enjoyment of films is seasonally variable, or an average film is an average film, whatever the weather. It’s USP is that it’s ‘a red-necked Oceans’ or ‘a hillbilly Oceans’ so, in other words, it’s a riff on Oceans. Soderbergh directed the Ocean’s franchise, so it is hardly a stretch for him. Or us, for that matter.
Soderbergh, who can otherwise be interesting (Sex, Lies, and Videotape; Magic Mike; Behind the Candelabra), actually announced his retirement from film-making four years ago but has said that he could not resist this first-time script from Rebecca Blunt, if there is a Rebecca Blunt. (Soderbergh is fond of pseudonyms and as no trace of this Blunt can be found, some are saying that he is the writer. Soderbergh, will you come out of retirement for a script by Soderbergh? ‘Yeah. OK, then. I like his work.’) Either way, the film is set not in LA, Rome, Paris or Monte Carlo, but in West Virginia where there are no cool, glamorous guys in smart suits, just poor dumb shmucks scraping by.
Chief among them is Jimmy Logan (Channing Tatum) who, at the outset, is unfairly fired from the construction job where he worked beneath a Nascar stadium — Nascar is stock-car racing; it’s huge in America — while repairing sinkholes. However, all is not lost as he had noted something while he was down there and it’s the underground vault, as fed by the pneumatic tubes funnelling all the money taken by the vast racing complex above. He will rob it. This does not subvert the genre in the way, say, Reservoir Dogs did. Instead, it’s your typical three acts: 1) the planning of the heist; 2) the doing of the heist; 3) the aftermath of the heist. And the first directive under 1) is, of course, Put Together A Team.
So off we go. Jimmy recruits his one-armed barman brother, Clyde (Adam Driver), and his hairdresser sister, Mellie (Riley Keough), and Joe Bang, a safe-cracker who is in prison, so they’ll have to break him out. Bang is played by Daniel Craig who, in his prison stripes, and with a peroxide buzz cut, has to put you in mind of an extraordinarily beefy Jean-Paul Gaultier. (If not, ask yourself: did I waste enough of my youth watching Eurotrash?) And Bang has two hick brothers (Jack Quaid and Brian Gleeson) who complete the team.
Only the characters know what the plan is exactly, so we have to discover it for ourselves, as we go along, which does keep you on your toes. Why is Mellie painting cockroaches with nail varnish? What is the cake all about? But it’s all so fearsomely convoluted that you do have to wonder: dumb shmucks can be this smart? You have to suspend not just your disbelief, but also your cognitive faculties. Who organised the prison break? Who got the other inmates on board? And there is little tension or excitement, as it meanders all over the place. There is a subplot concerning Jimmy’s ex-wife (Katie Holmes) and their super-cute little daughter which not only kills the storytelling dead, but also exists solely to plant a sentimental seed that will pay off later, sentimentally.
The stabs at humour sometimes work (there’s a Game of Thrones gag that’s OK, if overstretched) but often don’t. The ingredients for Bang’s homemade bomb are meant to be hilarious, I think, but it’s just too heavy-handed. Meanwhile, the performances don’t all come from the same register. Tatum, Driver and Keough, for instance, play it straight to the point of dullness, while Seth MacFarlane, who appears as a British racing driver, seems to think he’s in a Mike Myers film. There is also a role for Katherine Waterston that is essentially a non-role, and one for Hilary Swank, who trucks up in the final minutes as the FBI agent who may be on to them, or may not be on to them, but you can be sure of one thing: she has ‘sequel bait’ written all over her. As for the ending, it lost me, I have to say, but this is ‘summer entertainment’ so maybe we’re just meant to let that ride. I would be furious if it were December, though.