Ocean’s 7-11? Soderbergh shifts gears to NASCAR heist film.
Director Steven Soderbergh knows his way around a good caper movie, having created the very successful rebooted Ocean’s series that has starred George Clooney, Brad Pitt, and a cast of popular actors.
With his latest film, Logan Lucky, Soderbergh transfers the criminal hijinks from the glitzy, ersatz-sophisticated environs of Las Vegas to the hard-scrabble, redneck epicenter of NASCAR: the Charlotte Motor Speedway in North Carolina. Although the laughs and thrills are maintained (thanks in no small part to Soderbergh’s winning cast), the translation is not entirely successful.
Channing Tatum and Adam Driver play the chronically unlucky Logan brothers, Jimmy and Clyde.
Jimmy was a star athlete in his youth, but an injury ended his promising career. His marriage to Bobbie Jo (Katie Holmes) also ended in disappointment. After being laid off his construction job at the Charlotte race track, he decides to pursue a reversal of his fortunes by planning a heist of the speedway’s daily receipts. Jimmy and Clyde assemble a ragtag team of accomplices (including Riley Keogh and an atypically cast Daniel Craig) whose skill sets are questionable at best. After this set-up, the rest of the film, as expected, is the playing out of the heist and its aftermath.
Neither the director nor screenwriter Rebecca Blunt (rumored to be a pseudonym for an as-yet unknown writer) seem able to decide whether they want to love their characters or condescend to them. At times, the brothers and their gang are portrayed as complete doofuses, yet we viewers are supposed to believe they are capable of this convoluted scheme.
Another disconcerting element is that all these Southern-fried characters are played by non-Southern actors, including Craig, a Brit. Are they all having a lark or mocking the accents and attitudes of the American South? It’s unclear. Finally, the plotting is neither completely coherent nor convincing. The success of the caper is way too dependent on unlikely circumstances that nearly always work out for these laid-back thieves.
I’m also troubled by the seeming lack of justification for the crime. For heist movies to work, we the audience have to believe that the targets of the crime somehow deserve their fate. We can set aside our consciences and cheer for the breaking of the law only if the perpetrators are karmically justified. I didn’t fully buy into their motivation.
Nevertheless, Logan Lucky is a lot of fun. The humor is loopy and offbeat, which can be pleasantly disarming. Setting aside the cornpone accents, the actors are all likable and easy to root for. Tatum draws on his substantial charisma to win our sympathy for Jimmy. While Driver seems to be channeling Tim Blake Nelson in his performance, the character’s quirks are still entertaining. Craig especially is delightful as explosives expert Joe Bang. His portrayal of Bond has become increasingly sullen and opaque of late, so it’s refreshing to see the actor having fun in a role.
The direction and scripting are also mockingly self-aware. At one point, the hillbilly thieves are referred to in a media story as Ocean’s 7-11, a sly reference to Soderbergh’s other caper films. The credits also announce the debut of a new cinematic talent: “and Introducing Daniel Craig!”
In the end, the machinations of the crime and the self-referential humor carry the day if you let the film wash over you as mindless entertainment. Just avoid the temptation to give it deeper thought.
Also appearing at your nearby Cineplex in September: Unlocked, a spy thriller starring Noomi Rapace and Toni Collette, directed by Michael Apted (9/1); It, featuring Bill Skarsgard as Stephen King’s killer clown (9/8); and Home Again, a rom-com showcasing Reese Witherspoon (9/8).