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After a four year absence from the big screen, Steven Soderbergh is back in the director's chair with a real crowd pleaser. Logan Lucky offers a heist comedy with a finger on the pulse of America's heartland. Set against a blue collar backdrop and boasting an immensely strong ensemble cast, Logan Lucky is Ocean's Eleven by way of Bruce Springsteen's driving "Johnny 99".
Channing Tatum's Jimmy Logan is a kindhearted but down-on-his-luck blue collar guy who just wants to be a good dad to his adorable little girl. Unfortunately, she's now spending most of her time with his ex-wife and her new husband (pitch perfect character role performances from Katie Holmes and David Denham). When Jimmy, through no fault of his own, loses another job, he decides to use inside information to pull a heist at North Carolina's Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Jimmy, we learn, comes from a famously unlucky family, or so the saying around town goes. By his side are his loyal siblings, Clyde and Mellie. Adam Driver plays the former, channeling his inner Tim Blake Nelson as a one-handed Iraq vet turned bartender. Riley Keough plays the latter, with a supporting performance that begs for significantly more screen time. From there, the Logans build out a team of good old boy criminals, including one performance from Daniel Craig that's so good, you barely even recognize him in the role. His Joe Bang is so funny, he's one of the chief reasons Logan Lucky is probably going to to be remembered for some time to come.
Sure, Logan Lucky delves into a few clichéd moments now and then, but Steven Soderbergh reminds us that's he's ultimately very good at clichés. The director's own Ocean's Eleven is very much a roadmap (it's even directly referenced in this new film), with NASCAR and Coca-Cola standing in for the simultaneous god and monster that was Las Vegas in his Ocean's trilogy. Stacking the deck with a lot of familiar faces (this is Channing Tatum's fourth film with him), Soderbergh and his cast aren't afraid to have fun, and the feeling ends up being contagious.
Certain to illicit Coen brother comparisons (Steven Soderbergh explains on the Ocean's Eleven commentary track that Joel and Ethan Coen were actually considered to play the 2001 film's Malloy Brothers), Logan Lucky also touches on themes from throughout Soderbergh's filmography. The economic strife that served as the backdrop for his Depression-era drama King of the Hill (itself centering on a pair of brothers) is still depressingly present 100 years later. It's just now set in a world that has a whole lot more in common with Mike Judge's King of the Hill.
Logan Lucky also has something in common with Edgar Wright's Baby Driver when it comes to sleek southern charm. It similarly benefits from an excellent sense of pacing and a story that keeps revealing inspired new talent throughout. Some characters play much larger roles than others, but just about everyone gets a memorable moment, be it Seth MacFarlane as an obnoxious racing sponsor, Dwight Yoakam as an unpleasant prison warden or Katherine Waterston (Inherent Vice) as a woman who, tellingly, represents a hopeful dream of both love and affordable healthcare.
While there was a lot of media focus on Soderbergh's retirement from the big screen a few years ago, the Academy Award-winning director also didn't really go anywhere. He followed Side Effects with the TV movie Behind the Candelabra and directed all 20 episodes of the early 1900s medical drama The Knick.
Meta-heist or no, Logan Lucky is nevertheless a straight up good time at the movies. It's a slice of American apple pie. While some might grumble that they've had better, or that apple pie itself is just too ordinary, anyone in the mood for a fun cinematic treat should very much like the taste of this one. Also, thanks to quite a few phenomenal performances and a clever screenplay with some neat twists and turns, they'll likely be back for seconds.