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Logan Lucky is Steven Soderbergh’s gravity-defying, ridiculously entertaining new movie, and it is the one that ends a blessedly brief retirement from big-screen directing. The movie concerns itself with a desperate attempt to even the odds. It’s a caper movie, a modern-day Robin Hood tale organized around an elaborate, improbable but curiously plausible heist.
Logan Lucky movie is about a heist of a gang including a wounded veteran, an unemployed former coal miner, a hairdresser and other motley members of the noncoastal non-elite. They conspires to knock over a Nascar race sponsored by Coca-Cola. The event has sucked a lot of cash from people like them, and the thieves quite literally set out to suck it right back up. The description might make the movie sound more pointed than it is. However, Soderbergh’s class consciousness is atmospheric rather than programmatic. No one in Logan Lucky says anything about politics, but the setting carries a heavy, obvious charge of political significance all the same.
Jimmy Logan (Channing Tatum) is once a high school football star and has not quite resigned himself to life on the short end of the stick. Laid off from a construction job in North Carolina, he returns home to discover that his ex-wife (Katie Holmes) and her car-dealer husband (David Denman) are planning to move out of West Virginia with Sadie. Jimmy’s brother, Clyde (Adam Driver) – a bartender having a hand lost in Iraq, thinks the family is cursed. Jimmy doesn’t share this superstition, and in any case, he has a plan, or at least a how-to list for bank robbers, that he decides to adapt for new circumstances. Stil, he needs to put together a crew first. Starting with Clyde and their sister, Mellie (Riley Keough), Jimmy taps into another kinship network by recruiting an explosives expert named Joe Bang (Daniel Craig) and his two brothers (Jack Quaid and Brian Gleeson). That’s not quite everyone, but there are some dandy little surprises in store that I’m not inclined to spoil.
Not that the plot is anything earth-shakingly original. Logan Lucky is quite similar to the Oceans and seems to stick closely to that template so faithfully that someone makes a joke about it. The pleasures of the heist genre are always procedural and specific. These movies are all the same, but also always different because of the particular mix of personalities and circumstances. They celebrate the combination of craft, planning and problem-solving ingenuity that can turn a job of work into a work of art. In other words, they are the quintessential movie movies reflecting the collaborative challenges and logistical triumphs of the production cycle.
For that reason, a good heist movie can settle into a sweet spot where reality and fantasy converge. This movie has narrative engine humming along nicely and occasionally accelerating into farce when Craig shows up with sporting neck tattoos, spiky bleached hair and an accent that sounds like the cause or the result of a badly sprained tongue.
Soderbergh never speeds through the twists and bumps. He downshifts and pulls onto the shoulder, letting the story take care of itself while the audience enjoys the sometimes funny, sometimes fractious, sometimes wistful pleasure of the characters’ company. By the time you encounter, the only truly villainous character is Seth MacFarlane, and you feel like you’re a family-reunion crasher sticking around long enough to get promoted to second cousin.
Of the three movies released this summer that self-consciously reactivate an old-school outlaw mythology, this movie has the most to say and the least to prove. While the other directors aggressively promote their own coolness, flaunting borrowed attitudes and showy retrofitted styles, Soderbergh comes back reveling in squareness and in a loose self-confidence that disguises its mastery.
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