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Arts & Life

Heist Film 'Logan Lucky' Doesn’t Steal Your Heart

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When Steven Soderbergh’s Logan Lucky gets excited about the upcoming race day, it’s not because the Logan brothers are sports enthusiasts or Soderbergh has put us in a high school sports movie. It’s because the collection of dimwits who populate the film are planning to steal the huge pile of cash that is literally pumped into a basement vault underneath the NASCAR track. This project seems way above their scant talents. These are guys who get fired from crummy jobs, think they’re oppressed by ex-wives and have only sketchy places to live.

The movie lays on the usual trappings of a NASCAR day at the races – it’s Memorial Day with a packed raceway; American flags billow, fighter planes zoom overhead and troops march. But here, it’s all parody, because what’s going on – and what we root for – is simple robbery. Actually, complicated robbery – it’s a tangle of complications and plans and ruses, and a huge amount of money is there for the taking, or so these guys think.

Steven Soderbergh is one of the few filmmakers who can handle a complicated caper story without fuzzing details, losing track of characters or just hoping in vain that the audience doesn’t lose its way. The picture works a little like chaos theory – does the flap of a butterfly’s wings in Brazil set off a tornado in Texas? Logan Lucky must figure out how to get career master thief Joe Bang (Daniel Craig in a tow-head crewcut) out of prison to the racetrack for a few hours. At the same time, other guys re-route the money-bearing ducts under the track with a small explosive device – all to the tune of John Denver’s “Take Me Home/Country Roads.” The prison escape involves the thief vomiting in the cafeteria, a fight and a construction project. There are also two Logan’s – Jimmy (Channing Tatum) and Clyde (Adam Driver at his full-out slouching blank-eyed best).

The movie takes place in Kentucky and West Virginia, and while Southern dopey is almost a movie genre on its own, it’s hard to do. It can’t be consistently dopey – like Will Ferrell’s pictures – and there must be someone in the cast, or more than someone, smart enough to herd the idiots around.

But this is one dimension of Soderbergh’s talent.  He can do work that’s complex and penetrating – sex, lies and videotape, Kafka, Solaris, Full Frontal. But he tends to return to Hollywood pop, and especially intricate choreographies of big heists. He took the sloppy Rat Pack version of Oceans 11 from 1960, and turned it into a disciplined, precise, even elegant entertainment.

Soderbergh is especially good with obsessive characters, men and women with only one motive, which is usually greed and which they follow through all sorts of obstacles until they get what they want or wind up in jail, or both.

Logan Lucky is fun. You catch yourself worrying if the parts will fall into place, if Joe Bang really knows the science of his explosives, and whether the Logan’s and their even dumber henchmen can get Bang back into prison safely, even though you already know exactly how events will turn out. 

But it’s so thin. Logan Lucky is like a moth wing. It’s kind of pretty. For a moment, you get engaged watching it, but the second it goes still, the moment the movie is over, it’s gone. There’s nothing to remember, nothing to hold your thoughts or your interest once the lights come up. You don’t feel like you’ve been through any experience, or that you had some pleasurable feeling.  Steven Soderbergh has significant talent, but Logan Lucky offers no tune that you might want to hum later, or thoughts or images that afterwards might waft lazily and pleasantly across your mind’s eye. It’s a trifle, and even for a trifle the half-life is very short.

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