Saturday, January 06, 2018

"Logan Lucky": two-paragraph review

Steven Soderbergh, the brainy director of such hits as "Ocean's Eleven," "Traffic," and "Erin Brockovich," returns from semi-retirement (after having directed "Behind the Candelabra") to helm 2017's "Ocean's Eleven" retread, "Logan Lucky." This comedy about a NASCAR heist is basically "Ocean's Eleven" meets "Raising Arizona," and the movie is self-aware enough about its derivative origins that a newscast during the film refers to the robbers as "Ocean's Seven Eleven." The principal cast speaks in various twangy West Virginia accents (including Daniel Craig in a hilarious turn as safe-cracker and explosives expert Joe Bang), and everyone's got a weird quirk à la a Coen Brothers film. Jimmy Logan (Channing Tatum) is a recently fired construction worker with a limp that's from an old football injury; his bartender brother Clyde is a prosthesis-wearing veteran of the Iraq War who lost part of his arm right before the end of a tour. Clyde likes to go on about the supposed "Logan family curse," given how unlucky most of the family members have been—with the exception of hot little sister Mellie, who seems to be doing fine. Jimmy, now jobless, wants a better life for his adorable and adoring daughter Sadie (Farrah McKenzie); he reveals to Clyde his plan to rob the Charlotte Motor Speedway in North Carolina, where the businesses on site use pneumatic tubes to move their cash to a secure vault. Jimmy used to be part of the construction crew renovating several areas of the speedway that had developed dangerous sinkholes, so he knows all about those tubes, and he has a plan. But to execute the plan, Jimmy and Clyde need the help of the Bang Brothers. Eldest brother Joe (Daniel Craig sporting bleached hair and a hilarious Southern accent) is in prison; he's a safe-cracker, but he'll need to be broken out for part of the day, then returned to prison in the evening as if nothing has happened. Joe's two younger brothers, Sam and Fish (Brian Gleeson and Jack Quaid—sons of Brendan and Dennis, respectively), will help with the operation, but because they've found Jesus, they'll need a moral reason to rob the speedway. Along the way, Jimmy will flirt with Sylvia (winsome Katherine Waterston of "Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them" fame), a former schoolmate; he'll also have run-ins with twatty Brit Max Chilblain (Seth MacFarlane), billionaire owner of a racing team. Hot on the trail of the robbers is all-business FBI agent Sarah Grayson (Hilary Swank), putting the pieces together.

The script for this movie was written by a certain Rebecca Blunt, but movie-trivia hounds are pretty sure that that name is an alias for an industry veteran. Blunt has no previous credits to her name, but the screenplay itself is obviously the work of someone with experience. The screenplay is a bit of a paradox: on the one hand, we've got an engaging, funny story unrolling before us; on the other hand, the plot is so obviously a ripoff of "Ocean's Eleven" that the story's derivative nature sometimes gets in the way of the viewer's enjoyment. The acting by all the principals is fine (and it's a bit disconcerting to see Channing Tatum looking bloated and flabby for this role; I never thought of him as a Method actor); the movie's tone and pacing are decent if not extraordinary. Humor is sprinkled throughout the two hours (I like the idea of a British actor—Craig—doing an exaggerated Southern twang while a Yank actor—MacFarlane—affects an obnoxious British accent), but this isn't a wacky, absurdist comedy like "Raising Arizona," nor is the story as saturated with cleverness as "Ocean's Eleven," the film it's trying hardest to emulate. Come to think of it, there is one major difference between "Logan Lucky" and "Ocean's Eleven": the 2001 film had a fearsome antagonist in the form of Andy Garcia's sinister Terry Benedict. "Logan Lucky" gives us no such adversary (the guys are only robbing the speedway), and it doesn't try very hard to build up tension with, say, a ticking clock. When Agent Grayson appears, the tension ratchets up slightly, but she's not in the film until the final third, which in my opinion is far too late: there's wasted cat-and-mouse potential here. We get an amusing twist or two at the very end of the film, along with a possible setup for a sequel, but even that setup is reminiscent of the ending of "Ocean's Eleven," with the gang not quite out of the woods yet. Upshot: "Logan Lucky" is good, entertaining, hillbilly fun, but it's far too reliant on the "Ocean's Eleven" template.

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