Review: 'Logan Lucky' Starring Channing Tatum, Adam Driver, & Daniel Craig

Steven Soderbergh is back and ready to have fun again. Well, that's not totally accurate because the workaholic filmmaker, whose retirement lasted about 5 seconds, clearly was having fun directing two seasons of The Knick, shooting and editing Magic Mike XXL, and more. More accurately, he's ready for us to have fun again, at the movies, with the heist genre, and in a different way than with his Ocean's Eleven trilogy. It's no surprise Soderbergh returned in the genre he's perhaps most comfortable, but what is surprising is that the film was Logan Lucky, which is like Ocean's Eleven if it were southern deep fried.

Penned by the mysterious, possibly fictional Rebecca Blunt, Logan Lucky is sorta like one of the Coen Brothers' numbskull movies, only these characters have so much heart, soul, and realness to them they don't deserve such a label. That's really the fascinating thing about Logan Lucky; even with its cast of goofy, colorful hillbillies (the working title was Hillbilly Heist), this isn't a film that should be looked down on as simply a lark. Sure, you're meant to laugh at the silly antics of these wannabe criminal masterminds, but their driving motivation will hit closer to home than any reason Danny Ocean ever gave.

It all begins with the characters, which Soderbergh clearly has an affection for. The Logan family is cursed with generations of bad luck, and darnit somebody's got to do something about it. Jimmy Logan (Channing Tatum) is a West Virginia construction worker with a bad leg and an ex-wife (Katie Holmes) who is looking to take their daughter away to Virginia. He's so hard up for cash he drives down to North Carolina for work at the Charlotte Motor Speedway, only to get laid off because of his limp, and concerns about "liability". His brother Clyde (Adam Driver) can't stop talking about the family curse, maybe because he lost an arm fighting in Afghanistan. Scratch that...he lost an arm coming home from Afghanistan, which only makes it worse.  Not that Clyde seems to care. He's comfortable with it, serves up drinks just fine without it, and even has his brother for backup when a-hole customers (like Seth MacFarlane as a arrogant race car magnate) make fun of his injury. Clyde may be cool with life as it is, but Jimmy's had enough.

These people may not be sophisticated, but they know what they know. And Jimmy knows the Charlotte Motor Speedway, which is why it's the place he decides to rob. And he knows people, too; who have particular sets of skills even if they don't all wear Armani suits. In fact, none of them do. And they spend their time bobbing for pig's feet and stuff. There's Joe Bang (Daniel Craig), a bomb expert currently serving time. Joe has a pair of brothers, Fish and Sam (Brian Gleeson and Jack Quaid), who are technically the technical experts even though they seem to not know anything about technology. The "Trixie" of the group is Jimmy and Clyde's sister Mellie (Riley Keough), who has enough speed and street smarts for the whole lot of 'em.

One of the amazing things about Soderbergh is that he came out of the gate with a directorial style that oozed confidence, but Logan Lucky is on another level still. This isn't a film that bounces from wacky setpiece to wacky setpiece; like most of Soderbergh's movies it moves at a certain relaxed, breezy pace. Yet he doesn't feel the need to fill those quieter spaces with useless fluff. Everything we get from him, the script, and the stars is a gem. And, I don't know what's going on this summer, but this is the third recent movie to do a killer job with a John Denver song. I'm not going to give it away, but if your heart doesn't melt then somebody ought to check your pulse.

Of course the plan goes bellyup, mistakes are made, new tactics cooked up on the fly, but as usual the best part of any heist is in how it comes together. It's there that we learn to appreciate these would-be  criminals as more than just a bunch of country bumpkins. Soderbergh doesn't pity them, he doesn't shove them in a coal mine somewhere sand say "Look how pathetic these people are." He gives them all their chance to shine and paints them as modern day heroes for striking out against a system that only rewards those who already have it all. It's a familiar idea, sure, seen to a more violent degree in last year's Hell or High Water, but we rarely see it depicted with characters like these.

At this point we just know Tatum is going to do great work, but with Soderbergh he always gets to show an innocence missing from his other roles. It's very similar to the smarter-than-it-looks performance he gave in Magic Mike. He has probably the least flashy performance of them all, and his southern drawl is sorta suspect (almost everyone's is, though), but Tatum repeatedly has the best drawn out of him by Soderbergh. Driver gets all of the best reaction shots and deadpan gags, while Keough, another Magic Mike vet, is a lit firecracker the whole way through. But the guy having the most fun of all is Craig,with his hair dyed an obnoxious shade of blonde and begging to be frosted, we've never seen him play this far-out before. It's just weird and ridiculous and terrific to see Craig having such a good time. He's a professional and always does a solid job but he rarely seems to be enjoying himself, even in his Bond movies. I could do with seeing Craig in more roles like this. But not too many.

Some will write off Logan Lucky as one of Soderbergh's most frivolous efforts, but that would be a mistake. Not everything works; a final act addition of two dogged FBI agents (Hilary Swank and Macon Blair) slows things down to an unnecessary degree and feels out of place, and there are a bunch of supporting turns (Sebastian Stan, Katherine Waterston) that don't get enough time, but these are minor blips when so much is thoroughly enjoyable. Who knows? Maybe Soderbergh will see fit to launch a brand new heist trilogy? We should be so lucky.

Rating: 4 out of 5