Director Steven Soderbergh’s return to theatrical filmmaking is a worthy comedic romp. It’s also something more. Blessed by an attractive and likable cast led by a typically stellar Channing Tatum and a tweaked Daniel Craig, “Logan Lucky” might be a sleeper late summer hit.
Dubbed the redneck “Ocean’s Eleven,” “Logan Lucky” feels very much part of the Danny Ocean world. When brothers Logan, Jimmy (Tatum) and Clyde (Adam Driver), decide to rob Nascar during a race in North Carolina, they must assemble a team. This naturally leads them to a local prison where they visit the appropriately named Joe Bang (Craig), an explosives guru.
Bang is cooling his heels for a another few months until he makes parole. The brothers explain to him that they need his help to blow open the Nascar vault. But Bang is incarcerated. No worry, the brothers have a plan for that.
The caper that the team pulls off plays second fiddle to the development of each character. And casting is inspired. Driver (see “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”) demonstrates great deadpan comic timing playing the hapless but warm-hearted Clyde, who lost his hand serving in Iraq. But he doesn’t let the loss drag him down, and he now capably serves drinks at a local watering hole with technical precision. He’s also devoted to his brother Jimmy, a former football star whose career was cut short by injury.
The inspired casting includes an unrecognizable Seth MacFarlane playing an arrogant millionaire who has jumped into the NASCAR game. Riley Keough plays the brothers’ sexy and savvy sister Mellie. Katie Holmes channels her inner country girl as Jimmy’s ex-wife. Katherine Waterston plays one of Jimmy’s old quasi girlfriends—Jimmy’s line to her is something like, “did we kiss once?”
Dwight Yoakam drolly plays a prison warden. Sebastian Stan is a NASCAR driver at odds with his sponsor. A fierce robot-like (in a good way) Hilary Swank plays a special FBI agent, who investigates the robbery with her partner played by “Blue Ruin’s” Macon Blair. And Jack Quaid and Brian Gleeson play the hillbilly Bang brothers for added comic relief.
While the ensemble cast is enough to hold viewer interest, two performances are a must see. Most of the attention will be paid to James Bond Daniel Craig’s turn as the country safe cracker Joe Bang. With completely white hair, a saucy side, and a carefree attitude, Craig plays Bang with a whimsy that we might not have thought possible from the actor. And credit has to go to him for taking the role and running with it. But my feeling is that Soderbergh’s direction and the environment he fostered on set had a lot to do with how well Craig’s choices worked. As Soderbergh has successfully demonstrated over and over, few directors can pull off orchestrating ensemble casting more skillfully than the Oscar-winning auteur.
But while Soderbergh managed to make excellent use of Craig, his ace-in-the-hole has to be the young Farrah Mackenzie who plays Jimmy’s daughter Sadie. And remarkably, inside this caper film isn’t a sultry girl meets boy and engages in a torrid affair, rather, we get a father-daughter love story. When Sadie has her big scene, it is positively tear-inducing. No parent could resist the tug at their heart-strings. This subplot alone moves “Logan Lucky” from a heist comedy into something else altogether.
Returning to the director’s chair on a theatrical feature could not be soon enough for Steven Soderbergh. Gone from theaters since 2013, his presence has been missed. And he chose the right vehicle to make his “comeback.” “Logan Lucky” is an smooth ride back to the top.