Review: ‘Logan Lucky’ has just enough humor to cross finish line

Joe Cross, Staff Writer

Courtesy of Fingerprint Releasing
Joe Cross finds that the mid-August blockbuster “Logan Lucky”, “gets the job done.”

As long as television and film have been around, the South has been at the receiving end of a cruel joke. Residents of states below the Mason-Dixon Line and the accompanying culture are often portrayed as dimwitted, hopelessly impoverished to a fault, and easily fooled in films, and the fact that two of the most popular films set in the South are the satirical “Talladega Nights” and somewhat condescending “The Help” doesn’t exactly do anything to remedy that.

Logan Lucky,” the newest film from Steven Soderbergh, doesn’t so much attempt to change that perception as it does modify it; the titular Logan siblings may be simple, but they are not stupid. Soderbergh is the perfect director to front this kind of project; it’s fitting that Hollywood’s resident rulebreaker would make a film about completely disregarding the system and taking back what has been wrongfully stolen, and sneak it in and out of theaters as quickly and quietly as an actual heist.

It seems almost hard to believe that a film like this is playing on 3,000 screens nationwide. For roughly the first 30 minutes, it moves at a knowingly glacial pace. The first time we see anything resembling real action in a fight scene at a bar, we immediately cut away to another character’s perspective as he promptly leaves the same bar. A character makes a comment about seeing a “Furious Fast” (sic) movie to turn off his brain for a few hours, a self-aware wink to the audience explaining that this is not the high-octane thrill ride the trailer suggested.

Instead, it resembles what a student film remake of “Ocean’s Eleven” would look like after watching “Dazed and Confused” one too many times–in the best way possible. The stakes are extremely low here, as jail sentences, bank robberies, and coming out of retirement for one last job are casually shrugged off as everyday proceedings. It exists in its own universe, where all its eccentricities don’t need to be explained, but are just accepted as being part of “the West Virginia lifestyle.” It’s essentially a hangout movie that just happens to take place during a heist at a major racetrack.

Much of the humor comes not from the script, but rather the performances. Daniel Craig as a southern bankrobber who’s something of a local legend, and Adam Driver as a bored, Eeyore-esque, one-armed bartender can get significant laughter from a single, menacing (or, in Driver’s case, resigned) glance without saying much of anything.

Similar to last year’s overlooked Coen Brothers flick “Hail, Caesar!,” another cinematic experiment that bafflingly managed to play in wide release, the humorous gags are only loosely related, with the Logan family being the thread that ties them together. As a slapstick comedy with occasional commentary on the divide between corporate and working class America, “Logan Lucky” is tremendous; but when it attempts to operate as a family drama or crime film, it falters.

Instead, it resembles what a student film remake of “Ocean’s Eleven” would look like after watching “Dazed and Confused” one too many times–in the best way possible.”

— Joe Cross

There are other elements that just feel out of place here: a family curse among the Logans that’s only receives elaboration when the plot demands it; bizarre characters played by Hilary Swank and Seth MacFarlane that feel like leftover elements from other films; and occasional descent into cliched territory, i.e., a girl stupefying and utterly embarrassing a guy with her superior knowledge of cars, a trope that’s been used countless times before with little success.

It’s hard to tell whether the film is playing these scenes as ironic commentary or taking them seriously, and its tone is muddled as a result. It also doesn’t help that the female lead, Mellie, played by Riley Keough, is given virtually nothing interesting to say or do for the entire film. Sometimes, these elements work in spite of themselves (the funniest scene in the entire film is a debate about “Game of Thrones” in the middle of a prison riot that has little to do with anything), but for the most part it feels clear that the film doesn’t exactly know what to do with its side characters and subplots.

Even though it can’t quite match the visual flair and energy of this summer’s earlier, similarly-themed “Baby Driver,” “Logan Lucky” ultimately succeeds because it takes the same idea in a different direction, asking what would cause someone to attempt a heist and what the implications of that action could be. For a mid-August blockbuster, it more than gets the job done.

MY RATING: B