Review: Logan Lucky (2017)

There’s a popular idea that there are two Steven Soderberghs: Steven Soderbergh the Hollywood showman, who made the Ocean’s Trilogy and Out of Sight, and Steven Soderbergh the experimentalist, who made The Limey and The Girlfriend Experience. Unfortunately, after his aborted retirement, it seems that the two sides of Steven Soderbergh have melded into one and given us the misbegotten heist comedy Logan Lucky.

Neither funny nor thrilling enough for a Hollywood film nor formally daring enough to be truly experimental, Logan Lucky is a film stuck between a rock and a hard place. It has charming actors performing stylized characters in a film that should play something like a redneck The Killing (or Ocean’s 7-11, as a character says in the film), but instead they’re left to flounder in a film where every action, dialogue beat, and establishing shot is extended for unfathomable reasons. There are saggy films and then there is Logan Lucky, where Soderbergh seems determined to sap any level of urgency or pep out of what should be an entertaining proposition.

The plot concerns a heist at a NASCAR racetrack orchestrated by two redneck brothers (Channing Tatum and Adam Driver), their cunning sister (Riley Keough), and an incarcerated demolitions expert named Joe Bang (Daniel Craig). There are elements of this plot, like the details of the heist and the clever way that the brothers break Joe Bang out of prison, that could make for a rousing film—and an eleventh hour reveal about the heist supplies some of this excitement—but it’s too little, too late.

A little tweaking could have improved Logan Lucky significantly. There are elements here that could work like gangbusters, like Daniel Craig’s rollicking performance as Joe Bang and Channing Tatum’s continued ability to channel an everyman despite looking like an action figure. But then you have aspects like Adam Driver floundering to portray an authentic numbskull, Seth MacFarlane’s tonally-bizarre performance as a foppish British millionaire, and a curious devotion to ancillary moments like a woman singing the national anthem at the racetrack, where the camera holds on her face as she wails with fervour. Do we really need 30 seconds of a performance of the national anthem? Everything wrong about this movie is contained in that one shot and its inexplicable dedication to minutiae when it should be focusing on the entertainment, on the goods.

In film school, I was always told to get actors to “take the air out of the scene,” which means to speed up their cues and remove all the dead space from their performances. It’s not a rule that should apply to all films (First Reformed, for instance, would not benefit from a quicker pace), but when you’re making a Hollywood entertainment, pace matters. Apparently, Steven Soderbergh disagrees.

Unlike the NASCAR drivers featured in the film’s main set piece, Soderbergh believes that slow and saggy is the key to a jovial heist picture. I wish I could agree, but when it comes to genres like heist comedies, entertainment is king.

5 out of 10

Logan Lucky (2017, USA)

Directed by Steven Soderbergh; written by Rebecca Blunt; starring Channing Tatum, Adam Driver, Seth MacFarlane, Riley Keough, Katie Holmes, Katherine Waterston, Dwight Yoakam, Sebastian Stan, Hilary Swank, and introducing Daniel Craig.