A star-studded caper from “Ocean’s Eleven” director Steven Soderbergh, “Logan Lucky’s” business model is at least as interesting as the film itself, designed to bypass the major studios. The result is a breezy, slight, Southern-flavored movie where the cast appears to be having enough fun to prove mildly infectious.
Channing Tatum stars as Jimmy Logan, who – facing the prospect of losing shared custody of his daughter when his wife (Katie Holmes) moves away – decides to knock off a NASCAR event at the nearby Charlotte Motor Speedway. Laid off from his construction gig there, Jimmy knows the setup, enlisting his brother Clyde (Adam Driver), sister Mellie (Riley Keogh, who starred in the series based on Soderbergh’s “The Girlfriend Experience”) and assorted miscreants in the plot.
The Logans have been historically plagued by bad luck, including Clyde, an Iraq vet who lost his arm in the war. Pulling off this big score is thus couched as a test of whether they can break that ostensible curse.
The scheme, naturally, proves wildly elaborate, including – in a flourish that brings “The A-Team” to mind – breaking a safecracker (Daniel Craig) out of the local prison just long enough to get the job done without anyone noticing. (As a sign of the cheeky tone, the James Bond star is listed in the closing credits as “And introducing Daniel Craig.”)
Soderbergh isn’t turning over any new leaves here. If anything, he’s essentially recycling, while cashing in on an adept company of players, some of whom approximate a Southern accent better than others.
The movie really excels less in the bigger picture than small moments, from its use of John Denver songs (the Logans live in West Virginia) to a children’s talent pageant. The most inspired bit, in fact, amounts to an extended throwaway gag about “Game of Thrones” and author George R.R. Martin’s sluggish pace delivering new books, which, funny as it is, is one of those time-specific jokes that might not possess much of a shelf life.
Nevertheless, there’s something to be said for a project that doesn’t take itself too seriously, and Soderbergh’s financing scheme has created the latitude to make a movie that conspicuously feels like a throwback – a small-boned showcase that doesn’t need blockbuster box-office returns to break even.
Granted, that formula – a bit of an experiment, given the current drift of the movie business – doesn’t create a huge incentive to rush out and see “Logan Lucky” in the theater, especially with the rights having already been parceled out to Amazon.
So basically, Soderbergh has made a nice little movie, while trying to devise a formula that will allow it to succeed on those terms. If that works, take it as proof that even in Hollywood, it’s sometimes better to be smart than lucky.
“Logan Lucky” premieres Aug. 18 in the U.S. It’s rated PG-13.