Director: Steven Soderbergh
Writer: Rebecca Blunt
Cinematographer: Peter Andrews
Producer: Gregory Jacobs, Mark Johnson, Channing Tatum, and Reid Carolin
by Jon Cvack
I’ve long admired Stephen Soderbergs renegade approach to filmmaking, varying between A-level star-studded studio films like Ocean’s 11 ('01), Traffic ('00), and Erin Brockovich ('00) to the extreme and low budget indie works such as Gray's Anatomy ('96), Kafka ('91), and Bubble ('05), the latter of which he released simultaneously in a few theaters and Video on Demand, hoping that he could create profitable model that would assist up and coming filmmakers, though only recovering about 15% (largely due to the no name figures).
Most recently, Soderberg gave a disparaging State of Cinema speech at the San Francisco International Film Festival, in which he explained his retirement from filmmaking, explaining that the studios were now run by business people who have little interest in films and even less experience in production, who were telling filmmakers like himself and others that their projects were no good, comparing the paradoxical model to himself visiting Mercedes and attempting to tell the engineers how to design a car. I never bought into the fact that he would fully abandon filmmaking, especially after his Cinemax series The Knick was canceled (which is arguably the greatest looking show ever made, and one of peak TV's best).
Lucky Logan was his return to filmmaking after only a brief hiatus, attempting to combine his indie roots with a star studded film, building excitement for a new marketing model that he was going to test. The plan was to raise the money and release the movie independently, and manage the marketing with additional funds (I initially heard $1 million, though now I’m seeing $20 million), allowing Soderberg to spend relatively less on marketing and have more direct involvement in the accounting. Unfortunately, the film has underperformed, and like Bubble, might cause some companies to hesitate before taking on the distribution of a $29 million film without studio assistance. This isn’t to say that the film will have been a complete bomb. As of this writing it has pulled in $36 million, which is to say nothing of the international sales. I was even surprised I was able to catch it in time as in an age where poor performers are pulled from theaters with lightning speed, it was still playing at a few theaters around me a month later.
Being the first movie I’ve seen with my Movie Pass, I can’t say I was completely bummed out (one of the positive attributes of the service in that money spent is no longer a factor). While the films feels as though it was made by a Soderberg megafan who wanted to make Ocean’s 11 in the rural South, it contained a few good moments, and yet it in lieu of its author, the bar was a set a bit higher and the mountain of holes and inconsistencies couldn’t rescue the film from being yet another poorly designed caper film - and coming off Baby Driver’s (2017) heels, which while containing problems of its own, also pushed the genre in a refreshing direction, making the problems in Lucky Logan all the more glaring.
It follows blue collar construction worker Jimmy Logan (Channing Tatum), who on account of lying on his application about an existing knee injury, is terminated from his job. He’s close to his young and aspiring pop singing daughter Sadie Logan (Farrah Mackenzie who was one of the best parts of the film), who lives with her mom Bobbi Jo Chapman (Katie Holmes ) now divorced Jimmy years back, now living with a successful Ford car salesman, in part of some obvious and awkward brand deal with moments where the husband Moody Chapman (David Denman) starts breaking down details of the newest Ford Mustang and its varying types of transmissions and why it’s better than old muscle cars, which we then see is true.
After Jimmy is laid off, he visits Bobbi Jo who comes yelling at Jimmy for being a deadbeat who can’t keep a job and keeps missing important dates for his daughter Sadie and her performances.
While Jimmy was building some methane tunnels at Charlotte Motor Speedway (an actual place, though a very cool brand deal, if it was one), he discovers that they use a complex set of pneumatic vacuums to suck down the cash from the registers and provide better transport security. The plan is to recruit his veteran brother with one arm, Clyde Logan (Adam Driver), to rob the place, except before any of that happens there’s an incredibly ill-fitting scene and character from Seth MacFarlane playing Max Chilblain - one of the leading NASCAR driver’s main sponsors who makes his money selling energy drinks. He walks into the bar where Clyde tends, with McFarlane wearing what looks like a cheap wig and mustache, which maybe was intentional, and yet creates an absolutely unbelievable character. He harasses Clyde and a fight breaks out, and Clyde soon throws a Molotov cocktail into Max's truck.
Clyde and Jimmy hang out and Jimmy uses the word “cauliflower” which triggers something in Jimmy who recalls it as a codeword they used when committing crimes years ago, somehow solidifying his involvement. They recruit safecracker Joe Bang, and in the film’s best performance, Daniel Craig completely abandons James Bond, offering an exciting character who eats vending machine eggs and uses fake salt that is one of the few effective coincidences from the film. His one demand is recruiting his brothers Sam and Fish (Brian Gleeson; Jack Quaid) who really just function as offensive “redneck” stereotypes, and while I’m sure people like this exist, it felt like there could have been a bit more than two rambling idiots who drink beer and play horseshoes with toilet seats.
Aside from the fact that Joe Bang’s demand didn’t make sense (he has a profound understanding of chemistry and the ways in which fake salt can created a bomb with gummy worms and bleach in a plastic bag, but fails to see that his brothers Sam and Fish stood to jeopardize the mission), is the fact that most of the characters in the film play as superficial archetypes of Southern rednecks, even to the film’s single sex symbol Mellie Logan (Riley Keough) who dresses in hideous outfits that reminded me more of Joe Dirt’s Brandi than anything else, which might have actually been the intention when I think about it - though to Soderberg’s credit, she’s a pretty badass character.
Nevertheless, while Ocean’s 11 made me feel as though I was watching realistic characters in the fascinating world of high stakes Las Vegas, Logan Lucky felt more like a cartoon, poking fun at these people and in a way I was surprised to see from someone who’s offered such incredible depth to his characters. With the exception of Jimmy, Clyde, and Sadie, hardly anyone felt real or new; serving more as imitations of what’s been done countless times before. Adam Driver shines in his stoic role as a one armed man, who seems cursed in making illogical decisions. While I have no idea why he got himself arrested (even Wikipedia glances over the action), other than to play buddy to Joe Bang and providing fairly plot serving device, accepting the situation led to an awesome performance from Driver that makes me hope he gets even stranger roles (I wrote this a year or so before seeing BlacKKKlansman ('18)).
It all leads to the payoff which is where the film directly ripped off Ocean’s 11 ending (if a director can rip off another one of their films; at the very least it was relatively uninspired). After the heist concludes and looks to be a success and I honestly thought it was wrapping up, Hilary Swank is introduced as an FBI agent and so goes another fifteen minutes where I’m not exactly sure why it was included, as other than setting it up for a sequel, if you were to remove her character, the film could have ended in nearly the same exact way. Through flashbacks we see how some of the more confusing details worked out, which left me thinking back to when I first saw Ocean’s 11 while on vacation with my parents, with my friend telling me to give it a few minutes when were getting ready to leave our hotel room, and I proceeded to sit on the edge of my bed for the remaining hour, having missed the entire beginning, riveted with was going on and blown away by the explanation. Logan Lucky’s pay off doesn’t even come close to the same (even compared to Ocean's 12 ('04) or Ocean's 13 ('07)).
It’s not a bad movie, but definitely exists in the fly over middle of Soderberg’s incredible filmography.
BELOW: A powerful speech
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