Hillbilly Heist, by Bob Connally

20 Aug

There is a lot to like about Steven Soderbergh’s self-proclaimed, “anti-glam version of an Ocean’s movie.” The cast is terrific and manages to have fun with southern stereotypes without openly mocking southerners. The plot is cleverly constructed yet breezy in the right way and there’s an emotional weight to the story of the Logan family and their supposed “curse” that works well. But there is one fatal flaw that Logan Lucky cannot overcome. The film asks its audience to believe that Jimmy Logan (Channing Tatum) could orchestrate a heist worthy of Danny Ocean but it never earns that belief from us. While Jimmy may be a smarter guy than people realize, it remains too much of a leap to get from there to him being a criminal mastermind. It is unfortunate because as I said, there is a lot to like here.

Jimmy Logan’s string of personal misfortunes began with a football injury that ended a flourishing career. Now years later as a result of the limp that left him with he’s lost his job as a construction worker at Charlotte Motor Speedway due to liability concerns. Things are no better in his personal life as his ex-wife Bobbie Joe (Katie Holmes) and her new husband Moody (David Denman, The Office) inform him they’ll be moving to Lynchburg, Virginia and taking his daughter Sadie (Farrah Mackenzie) with them. Desperate, Jimmy turns to his brother Clyde (Adam Driver) for help. Jimmy has a plan to rob the speedway using his knowledge of how the money is moved there during a weekend in which security will be light. To pull off the heist though, they’ll need the help of safecracker Joe Bang (Daniel Craig). Unfortunately his being in prison presents them with a problem that requires a clever solution. They also enlist the help of Joe’s dimwitted brothers Sam (Brian Gleeson) and Fish (Jack Quaid), and their own sister Mellie (Riley Keough), easily the smartest person on the makeshift crew.

Written by mysterious first time screenwriter Rebecca Blunt (who as of this review’s publication is rumored to possibly be Soderbergh’s wife Jules Asner or maybe even Soderbergh himself), Logan Lucky mixes the sensibility of Soderbergh’s Ocean’s films with the kind of dumb criminal comedies the Coen Brothers have perfected. While this provides plenty of fun characters and funny interplay- especially between Driver and Craig- it ends up being the biggest contributing factor to the movie’s central problem. A movie about dumb criminals doing stupid things and ruining their own heists through sheer ineptitude makes sense. On the other side of that, the intricately planned and brilliantly executed heist in Ocean’s Eleven feels plausible thanks to the internal logic that film sets up. Danny Ocean and his cohorts are career criminals. They’re essentially an all-star team of thieves with lifetimes of experience to their credit. With the exception of Joe Bang (who doesn’t do much in terms of the job’s planning), these are characters with very limited criminal histories and while Jimmy isn’t a dummy, he hardly seems capable of putting together something so elaborate. This is no fault of Tatum’s who does a fine job of making Jimmy feel like a true living, breathing person which helps ground the film.

Driver meanwhile is funny and human as the younger Clyde, a veteran who lost his hand in an explosion while serving in Iraq. Like her character, Keough helps keep things from coming unglued when they otherwise could have. It could have helped the film greatly to give her character Mellie a criminal background as well. If she and Jimmy had a history of doing jobs together it would have gone a long way towards making Logan Lucky’s internal logic much sturdier. Not surprisingly, the highlight of the cast though is Craig, who is great fun to watch.

A couple of other cast members don’t fare as well. Katharine Waterston does a fine job with her few scenes but there doesn’t really seem to be any reason for her character to be there. I suspect there may have been much more to her role initially but as the movie is already as long as it is (119 minutes), Soderbergh may have cut much of it out but because of one scene in particular he couldn’t remove her from the film entirely. That is pure speculation on my part but otherwise it’s hard to figure out why she’s even there. Seth MacFarlane meanwhile does not do nearly as good of a job as Waterston but his character feels every bit as pointless. Simply putting the creator of Family Guy in a silly wig and giving him a dubious British accent may be funny in and of itself for some but for the rest of us it’s just a distraction.

Given the genre and its pedigree, Logan Lucky is a movie I fully expected and wanted to love. While it is certainly very watchable and has several things going for it, the lack of foundation that would have made the robbery feel plausible is too much to overcome. It also drags out its third act in a rather awkward way. There’s a really good movie here with some simple tweaks. It’s too bad Soderbergh didn’t make them.

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