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Had an Ocean’s Eleven heist taken place during one of the races in Talladega Nights, the result would look a lot like Logan Lucky. Steven Soderbergh has returned from a four-year motion-picture retirement to once again show us that when it comes to crafting robberies of high stakes—even ones involving the lower classes—he remains the slickest of them all.
But the greatest trick the director ever pulled was convincing the world that his scripter exists. “Rebecca Blunt” is credited with the screenplay, but there’s no evidence that she’s a real person aside from emails exchanged with a few cast members. Allegedly, Blunt lives in the U.K. and is too busy working on another script to help promote the film. But she’s also allegedly Soderbergh himself, or perhaps his wife, Jules Asner. Rumors abound. But considering that Soderbergh has often served as his own cinematographer and editor under pseudonyms, he seems the more likely culprit, his sabbatical perhaps having fomented his writerly side.
Regardless of who penned Logan Lucky, it’s quintessential Soderbergh: smart, funny, and a fizzy good time, even when you have to take the movie at its word that each cog in its stick-up wheel is necessary for the con (and oh-so-easy to pull off). The thieves at the heart of the heist are the Logan brothers, optimistic Jimmy (Channing Tatum) and hangdog Clyde (Adam Driver), with some assistance from smack-talkin’ sister Mellie (Riley Keough). While Clyde, who lost part of an arm in Iraq yet still glumly bartends with or without his prosthetic, is convinced that the family is cursed, Jimmy is making plans to make them rich, even posting the “Top Ten Rules for Robbing a Bank” in his kitchen. He doesn’t want to knock off a bank, though. Jimmy wants to rob the Charlotte Motor Speedway.
They gather their helpers, the most important of whom is Joe Bang (Daniel Craig, here as Southern as a mint julep). But as Joe points out to the brothers, “I. Am. In. Car. Ce. Ra. Ted.” No worries; they’ve got a plan for that. For the technical side of things, they secure a pair of hillbillies you wouldn’t trust to smash a beer can on their foreheads; when the heist needs to be moved up a week, and therefore take place during the Coca-Cola 600 instead of during a less busy and secured event, one of them says, “This whole thing changed dramastically.”
The redneck humor continues throughout the film with crazy crack timing from all the players, down to a little old lady who the brothers had pulled over to allow Mellie’s car to race by. How they knew that Grandma would be driving a purple car is anybody’s guess, as is the function of a cake that Mellie has delivered to a bank teller. Like with a good horror flick, however, the ride is best if you trust and don’t verify.
Tatum and Driver are maybe the most personable they’ve ever been—nah, Magic Mike is the former’s jewel—playing characters whose looks and speech belie razor-sharp brains. Scattered among the cast are Seth MacFarlane (if you can recognize him), Katherine Waterston, Katie Holmes, and, unfortunately, Hilary Swank. If Logan Lucky has a fault, it’s that it’s slow to build (yet still entertaining) and seemingly anticlimactic, with Swank’s federal agent distractingly showing up around the time you expect credits to roll. A name actress was unnecessary here; worse, her performance is weirdly robotic. But be patient, because Mr./Ms. X has a bit more of the story to tell. At one point, Mellie asks Joe, “Think we’re destined to repeat the past?” In Soderbergh’s case, let’s hope the answer is yes.
Logan Lucky opens Friday at theaters everywhere.