Run time: 1 hours 59 minutes
Stars: Daniel Craig, Adam Driver, Katie Holmes, Channing Tatum
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Logan Lucky, originally titled Hillbilly Heist, is a delightful, character-rich action comedy, a Southern-fried variation on the winning Vegas robbery films of Steven Soderbergh, 54. Known in Hollywood as Ocean's 7-Eleven, it's infinitely better written and more artfully shot than its box-office rival, The Hitman's Bodyguard, and its cast packs in more top talents than the latter's killer duo, Samuel L. Jackson and Ryan Reynolds. Its plot is familiar but smarter than Hitman's surprise-free, high-concept, chase-wisecrack formula. Rotten Tomatoes rates Logan Lucky almost 2.5 times as good as Hitman, yet Hitman grossed over 2.5 times as much money.
Partly, this is because Logan is not just a fun movie with cameras strapped to Porsches doing 110 on Charlotte Motor Speedway and a fast, zigzag romp. It's Soderbergh's subversive indie challenge to Hollywood tradition. Daniel Craig (who turns 50 in March) has a trashy blast playing uneducated, ingenious Joe Bang, an improvised-explosives expert who went to jail instead of Eton (James Bond's alma mater). He knows how to get at a $14 million NASCAR cash trove after a giant sinkhole opens beneath Charlotte's racetrack (which actually happened in 2010; the racetrack joked that in fixing it, they found Burt Reynolds' toupee from Stroker Ace, shot there). Craig's terrific, and the role is such a startling departure from his persona that the credits say, "Introducing Daniel Craig as Joe Bang."
Those further from AARP membership are all tops, too: Adam Driver as angry one-armed Iraq-vet bartender Clyde Logan; Channing Tatum, who's gone from pumped-up to plumped-up, as Clyde's West Virginia coal-worker brother Jimmy, who needs cash after getting sacked for a pre-existing condition not covered by insurance; and Elvis Presley's granddaughter Riley Keough as their sister and lead-footed driver. (Yes, talent runs in the family, but after five major acting prize nominations and three Soderbergh projects, she may fulfill Elvis’s thwarted acting ambitions.)
Splendid as it is, it also shows how America's irrevocably split twin cultures can affect movies. Like many Coen brothers comedies it resembles, Logan plays great in coastal hip towns, and it's loathed in the Midwest and South. Non-coastal non-urbanites may not savor its portrait of Southerners, even though Soderbergh is one, and the characters are mostly not just social caricatures. To make it less offensive to NASCAR and fans whose folkways get ribbed, only two of Logan's gang are stupid (a pair of born-again hicks), the bad guy is a Brit (Seth MacFarlane, not so good here), and racetrack types are not the butt of the humor. Even so, Northeastern reviewers called the smart, tricky West Virginia protagonists "dumb as dirt," evincing a prejudice nobody in the South or Midwest seems to be laughing at these days. Logan's mildly liberal satirical premises (wicked insurance companies; ruthless employers; veteran neglect; child beauty pageants; dim, corrupt born-agains) may face more resistance in our violently hypersensitive times. Fewer of the 2,500 screens it opened on should have been in red states. America may be developing two separate entertainment zones.
All national and industry politics aside, Logan Lucky is a high-octane gas, a shaggy-dog story that's hard to outguess. Thanks to Soderbergh, we can now start calling Daniel Craig "Bang. Joe Bang."
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