Logan Lucky: The Doldrums, by Josh Long
Jimmy Logan, the protagonist of Steven Soderbergh’s Logan Lucky, lives in south-eastern West Virginia, close to his daughter and ex-wife. The action of the film begins when he’s fired from his job at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Somehow, the film doesn’t mention (or doesn’t realize?) that his daily routine includes a 3 hour, 200 mile drive from home to work, and then the same drive again at the end of each work day. Does this matter? Let me put it this way – should audiences be incredulous if a film suggests to us that our protagonist lives in Baltimore, and commutes via car across three states to New York City every day? They would, and should. But because Logan Lucky is set in flyover country, no one seems to care. It’s this kind of unawareness about the film’s setting and the people that live there that really holds the film back.
Jimmy (Channing Tatum) isn’t very well off, has had trouble holding a job, and may or may not be affected by a family curse often bemoaned by his brother Clyde (Adam Driver). While he’s working at the Speedway, Jimmy gets an idea for a heist. He brings Clyde along to pull off the robbery and use the money to solve their financial woes. They enlist the help of explosives expert Joe Bang (Daniel Craig) and their leadfoot sister Mellie (Riley Keough). To top things off, the heist takes place the same day that Jimmy’s daughter Sadie (Farrah Mackenzie) will be performing in a local beauty pageant. They’ll have to take the money and run, keep clear of the law, and make it back in time for the pageant.
The set up isn’t terrible. And Soderbergh has said he was drawn to a sort of low-rent version of Ocean’s Eleven. Unfortunately, the world of the film seems so false. The perspective feels like that of a New York Times reporter braving the murky depths of Kentucky to understand the mind of the wild Trump voter. The film wants to humanize its characters, but is so committed to an idea of southerners as ne’er do well rubes that it can’t get out of its own way. There’s nothing wrong with populating a film with stupid or inept characters. Some of the best comedies do (Christopher Guest’s catalogue is a shining example). But to suggest that their geographical location necessitates a lack of intelligence is culturally tone deaf. At best, the approach other-izes them enough so that we can wonder and laugh at them.
The performances don’t help. Tatum feels like he could genuinely live in this setting, along with a select few cast members (Riley Keough and David Denman among them). Most everyone else feels like they’re doing a Halloween version of a redneck. Daniel Craig’s southern accent is painful at times. Seth MacFarlane shows up as a similarly over-the-top British energy drink promoter, in a role that adds nothing to the story. Hilary Swank pops in at the end of the film as a perfunctory FBI agent, playing the part like she thinks she’s in an SNL sketch.
And to top it all off, the plot’s full of holes, the geographical concerns being just the start. The script tells us that the Logan boys need Joe Bang because he’s going to help them with the vault; he’s in prison (so he needs to be broken out) and he won’t work without his brothers (so they need to be found and brought onto the team). So the movie sets all this up as important parts of the plan, but never makes it clear why they even need the explosives. This is just one of many elaborate pieces of the heist that ultimately seem entirely unnecessary. The denouement comes with an equally unnecessary reveal that leaves us more confused than wowed.
There are some genuinely funny moments; a sequence where inmates in Joe Bang’s prison keep their warden occupied is fantastic. Scattered throughout there are some very good jokes, line deliveries, and visual flourishes. In the second act particularly though, they are too few and far between. In the same way, some of the emotional moments work independently. Tatum has a great chemistry with his daughter, giving them some great, sweet moments. Much of that is sadly undercut by lackluster attention to the surrounding details. The script doesn’t even address the fact that the pageant and the heist are on the same day until we see them both beginning.
There is something interesting in seeing Soderbergh tackle an Ocean’s movie with dirt-poor rural criminals. But the concept and some effective comedic moments aren’t enough to cover up the plot holes, and the treatment of the southern characters ranges from insensitive to cartoonish. Not exactly a triumphant return for one of American cinema’s finest filmmakers.