It was a dark day two years ago when director Steven Soderbergh announced he was retiring from directing. Not “life-changing” dark or “crime against humanity” dark, but still—he’s consistently been one of cinema’s outstanding talents, beginning with 1989’s sex, lies, and videotape, continuing with the Ocean’s Elevenseries, and on through brilliant work like Side Effects, which was to be his last feature film.
Fortunately someone showed him the script for Logan Lucky, and it was enough to lure him out of retirement. A hilarious heist film, as dry as it is sharp, it’s not as quirkily Soderbergh-ian as much of his prior work, but is nonetheless exquisite, providing a subtle dig not only at redneck culture but even his own Oceans films.
Channing Tatum stars as Jimmy Logan, a West Virginia construction worker who drives four hours each day to help fix sinkhole issues at the Charlotte Motor Speedway. A leg injury from his high school football days, though, makes him a liability, and he’s unceremoniously let go. Not long after, he talks to his kid brother Clyde (Adam Devine) into robbing the vault at the racetrack, and the caper is on.
The Logan boys start by visiting their old buddy Joe Bang (a pitch-perfect Daniel Craig) in prison. A demolitions expert, Joe still has five months left in his sentence, so along with plotting the heist, Jimmy and Clyde also have to figure out a way to bust Joe out and then bust him back in, unnoticed.
At the same time, Jimmy is making time for his young daughter, who’s gearing up for the Little Miss Boone County pageant; his ex-wife Bobbie Jo (Katie Holmes) has full custody after their divorce.
In anyone else’s hands, Logan Lucky might have devolved into a ludicrous, slapstick mess, along the lines of last fall’s awful Masterminds, but Soderbergh’s innate gift for making even the most outlandish scenario seem completely normal comes through again here. Yes, this is the most colorful and memorable cast of characters to hit the screen in some time, but the film never feels like a spoof, and it never plays for a quick, cheap laugh.
The script is credited to first-timer Rebecca Blunt, though there’s rampant skepticism that she doesn’t exist and the name is just an alias for Soderbergh himself or for his wife Jules Asner. Either way, the story is a deliciously fun trip that you half-expect to include the preface: “Believe it or not, this is based on actual events”. It’s a white trash Ocean’s Eleven featuring everything from painted cockroaches to a particularly goosebump-inducing version of “Take Me Home, Country Roads”. And let’s not forget the out-of-nowhere Game of Thrones shout-out that is so bizarrely incongruous that it fits in perfectly with the rest of the proceedings.
If Soderbergh really is putting his retirement behind him and moving back into filmmaking, he couldn’t have picked a better canvas for his art than Logan Lucky. Not only is it a reminder of why we all need a little more of him in our lives, it’s a superbly entertaining, oddball (but only if you think about it) film. Hopefully those dark days are behind us for good.