Partway through the film, an onscreen character labels Logan Lucky’s main heist something to the effect of Ocean’s 7/11. It’s the most succulent summary for Soderbergh’s return to filmmaking, while also being a prime example of the tongue-in-cheek probing that defines much of Logan Lucky. Soderbergh’s romp through Middle America is quirky and clever, even as it comes with an air of condescension.
The ensemble cast, led by Channing Tatum and Adam Driver as the Logan brothers, gives the film much of its character. Daniel Craig, Riley Keough, Brian Gleeson and Jack Quaid round out the heist group, each making the most of their peculiar traits. But while it entertains, the lack of depth gives the characters shallow definitions–compassion transforms into simple-mindedness and wittiness is contextualized as an exception to the dim-witted rule. It never quite becomes mean-spirited, especially thanks to some last arc redemption, but it’s hard to shake the light mockeries that lead to dubious punchlines.
There are some attempts to create an emotional core through Jimmy Logan, Tatum’s character. The film documents Logan’s tough relationship with his ex-wife and their shared daughter. It’s cute for what it is, but feels misplaced and slow next to the surrounding high-octane, absurdist action. The whole film suffers from odd pacing that makes dizzying detours into lengthy flashbacks and expositions. It underscore the film’s content, and its–mostly fulfilled–promise to simple action entertainment.
This is further compounded by weird pacing and placement of scenes. The heist actually occurs early on, introducing a new character for an overlong aftermath that’s light on laughs or excitement. This is bookended by the aforementioned attempts at emotional resonance via Logan’s relationships, which feel slight and inconsequential. There’s no doubt purposefulness to the mismatches and disorientation, it just never quite connects.
The main event finds Soderbergh at his most comfortable. Their target is the Coca-Cola 600, one of NASCAR’s largest events; the obstacles that face the crew are just as large. It’s beautifully shot, as is most of the film, and provides all the right twists to generate a sense of suspense. The Logan’s are–indeed–very lucky, but the over-the-top nature of the film makes their lucky breaks more fun than frustrating.
In the current political climate, Logan Lucky felt primed to subvert and critique, its content doing less, but better. The film’s knowing nature produces a confident narrative with the natural byproduct of slight arrogance (but for elite Hollywood to escape that may be nigh impossible). It’s tricky pacing and structure does it no favors, but a talented cast and a good eye for direction gives this quirky heist flick just enough to make it worthwhile.