Steven Soderbergh has directed many types of films with great success (he won an Oscar for Traffic in 2000), but it's clear he has an affinity for heist movies (he's behind Ocean's Eleven and its two lesser sequels). Yet it's still odd to see him on the big screen with Logan Lucky, about a robbery during a Nascar race, for a number of reasons.
For one, you may recall Soderbergh announced his retirement from feature film directing in 2013. This didn't last — few thought it would — but it is true that this is his first feature since then (he's been quite busy with The Knick on Cinemax).
When he "retired," Soderbergh said he was burned out and disliked the ways directors were being robbed of their creativity in feature films. Everything became about money rather than making the best movie possible. It's ironic, then, that he'd return to features with a movie that has clear mainstream appeal; this is certainly not one of his indie film passion projects (Bubble, The Girlfriend Experience) that he knows will not play to the masses.
Logan Lucky follows Jimmy (Channing Tatum), Mellie (Riley Keough) and Clyde (Adam Driver) — the three Logan siblings — as they plan to rob the Charlotte Motor Speedway during the busiest race of the year. They need help, so they enlist demolitions expert Joe Bang (Daniel Craig, delighting with a Southern twang). Bang then brings in his dim-witted brothers Sam (Brian Gleeson) and Fish (Jack Quaid), who has "Dangerus" tattooed on his right shoulder.
In the Oceans movies the intelligence of career criminals Danny (George Clooney), Rusty (Brad Pitt), et al. was never in doubt. We could believe they're clever enough to think through robberies on an incredibly complex scale, and part of the fun was in the revelation of what they saw coming that the audience couldn't possibly foresee.
This is relevant in terms of Logan Lucky because none of the characters — especially mastermind Jimmy — show anything close to the intelligence needed to execute a heist this complicated. Maybe on his absolute best day Joe Bang could pull it off, but even that feels like a stretch, especially given that he's incarcerated when we first meet him.
That said, it's nonetheless fun to watch the plan unfold, ample cameos (Hilary Swank, Seth MacFarlane, Dwight Yoakam, and more) keep things light, and darn if the aftermath doesn't make you smile. You'll likely sense some biting social commentary in the last act, which is Soderbergh's indirect way of criticizing the establishment without being preachy. As often, well done, sir.
In its totality, Logan Lucky delivers as advertised — it's compelling, features likeable albeit flawed characters, and offers some good twists along the way. It has a few too many characters, but its humor (especially an argument between prison inmates and the warden that will delight Game of Thrones fans) and creativity outweigh the flaws. We're glad you're back, Mr. Soderbergh.