The trailer for “Logan Lucky,” the new film from Steven Soderbergh, his first after his short-lived retirement, announces that it’s from the director of “Ocean’s 11, 12, 13,” and “Magic Mike.” None of his many other films are needed to position “Logan Lucky” for audiences. This is Soderbergh at his most fun, working in slick heist caper mode, featuring his muse of the moment, Channing Tatum.
Since Tatum’s physical talents are the inspiration for “Magic Mike,” it’s ironic that Soderbergh has saddled his character, Jimmy Logan, with a bum knee, an injury that killed his NFL dreams and continues to impede his job prospects. Tatum lumbers and limps around “Logan Lucky,” portraying a charming lunkhead type, and using his comedic talent to power this light-hearted crime comedy.
Jimmy’s brother, Clyde (Adam Driver), is also physically impaired, saddled with a prosthetic hand. He’s an Iraq vet, and incongruously works as a bartender, though he mixes a mean one-handed martini. Their setbacks in life make their sister Mellie (Riley Keough) wonder about a “Logan curse,” but they pay that no mind. These two determined brothers may not seem like the sharpest tools in the shed, but dang if they aren’t dogged in their pursuits. It’s surprising, but Tatum and Driver make a perfect on-screen pair.
At one point, a character makes reference to “Ocean’s 7-11,” which could have been a perfect pithy tagline for this film. This is a decidedly blue-collar heist film, devoid of Sin City glam, focusing on real, if heightened characters. Casinos? Nah, they’re robbing the biggest show in town — NASCAR. Laid off from his construction job due to liability issues from his knee injury, Jimmy just wants enough money to stay close to his daughter, Sadie (Farrah Mackenzie), a spunky pageant princess with heart.
They recruit an incarcerated inmate, Joe Bang, a savant of homemade explosives, to bring the firepower to their plan to rob a vault of concessions cash underneath the motor speedway. The trailer cheekily announces, “and introducing Daniel Craig” as Joe, and it’s appropriate; Craig’s unrecognizable, inspired, Southern-fried performance is as far from 007 as you can get.
The screenplay is credited to a “Rebecca Blunt,” a writer who doesn’t seem to exist. Some have theorized that Soderbergh’s wife, former E! host and novelist Jules Asner might have written it, or Soderbergh himself. He has never shied away from using a pseudonym. Nevertheless, the story is so clearly Soderberghian, it had to have sprung from his brain or his inner circle.
In his heist films, Soderbergh is preoccupied with systems of places — the Rube Goldberg machines and mathematical equations that make things run. “Logan Lucky” is no different, focused on the careful and clever planning and execution, always with a trick up its sleeve, a shocking reveal of the secret plan inside the plan. The script does get too caught up in the plan, unfortunately losing momentum at the climax.
There are also a few characters around the edges that feel extraneous to the central story — an annoying energy drink pusher played by Seth MacFarlane with a cockney accent; a gravely toned FBI investigator played by Hilary Swank. But for all its issues, “Logan Lucky” is just so warmheartedly enthusiastic, it’s hard not to get swept away with this group of not-so-average Joes.
Rated: PG-13 for language and some crude comments. Starring: Channing Tatum, Adam Driver, Daniel Craig. Director: Steven Soderbergh. Running time: 119 minutes. Theaters: Edwards 21, Edwards 9, Edwards 14, Edwards 12, Majestic 18, Village Cinema.