Logan Lucky movie review: a waste of a heist

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Logan Lucky yellow light

MaryAnn’s quick take…

Fun enough and diverting enough while you’re in the middle of it, but hints of something much richer and more satisfying dangle just out of its reach.tweet
I’m “biast” (pro): mostly like Steven Soderbergh’s films; love Adam Driver
I’m “biast” (con): nothing
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

Well, it’s no Ocean’s Eleven.tweet But it does include a joke about how it’s no Ocean’s Eleven, so that makes it okay, I guess?

I confess that my disappointment over Logan Lucky might be bigger than the movie deserves. It’s fun enough and diverting enough while you’re in the middle of it,tweet as long as you don’t think about it too much. I will probably never watch it again and not be sorry about that, but that is also true of many other movies, and a perfectly acceptable status for a movie to achieve. But I have reveled in 2001’s O11 — also from director Steven Soderbergh, which the marketing of this movie takes great pains to remind us of — dozens of times and never get tired of it. The first thing I wanted to do when I stepped out of Logan Lucky is watch O11 again, just to remind myself how perfect a heist comedy can be.

“I go around half naked while my brothers are fully clothed. Someone ain’t dressin’ for the weather...”
“I go around half naked while my brothers are fully clothed. Someone ain’t dressin’ for the weather…”tweet

Brothers Jimmy (Channing Tatum: The Lego Batman Movie, Hail, Caesar!) and Clyde (Adam Driver: Silence, Midnight Special) Logan may be pretty vivid as characters, but they’re nowhere near as sharp as O11’s Danny and Rusty… and I don’t mean because they’re pretty dumb. Or are they? That’s one of the places where the would-be cleverness of Logan falls down: it can’t decide whether to try to amuse us with the cartoonish stupidity of the Logan boys or surprise us with their sudden smarts, so it keeps swapping back and forth depending on the requirements of the plot. They are Schroedinger protagonists, somehow mysteriously smart and stupid at the same time. (Logan sister Mellie [Riley Keough: Mad Max: Fury Road, Magic Mike] is a tedious Strong Female Character, brilliant at hairstyling and auto repair, and also at sashaying sexily around in her Daisy Dukes. She’s boring.) Danny and Rusty and their gang were professional thieves and con artists with astonishing criminal track records, and their robbery of a Las Vegas casino oozed intrigue and suspense; Jimmy and Logan are a couple of down-on-their-luck losers who decide to clean out the vault at the Charlotte Motor Speedway, a major NASCAR venue in North Carolina, on the day of the biggest race of the year, and their success seems a foregone conclusion. The seeming implausibility of their heist isn’t necessarily a total buzzkill, but the intricacies and tricksiness of how they go about it are somewhat confusing, and not in that way typical of heist movies trying to distract you from what’s happening. There’s never a moment here in which we go “Aha, so that’s how they did it!” and laugh at how we were fooled. We’re simply left scratching our heads at how the Logans manage to pull off what they supposedly do.

“You guys are Schroedinger-esque, smart and stupid at the same time. That is science.”
“You guys are Schroedinger-esque, smart and stupid at the same time. That is science.”tweet

Like Soderbergh’s 2009’s The Informant!, Logan Lucky has a whiff of the Coen Brothers about it,tweet with a really delightful aura of the absurd draped over what are in fact pretty straightforward depictions of Southern Americana. The opening ceremony of the Big Race seems like a parody of America, all flag-waving and a big pop star (in this case, LeAnn Rimes) belting out a show-offy rendition of the national anthem… but perhaps this is only because America itself seems like a parody these days. I wish the movie had delved more into this. The script, by first-timer Rebecca Blunt — or is it? — keeps seeming like it’s going to start dealing with the failure of the American Dream, which I think is what we are meant to presume is driving the Logan boys: Jimmy’s plans to transition from homecoming king and star high-school football player to the NFL were quashed when a car accident ruined one of his knees; Clyde left an arm in Iraq and now works as a bartender. The script has to stretch to find a moral justification for stealing from NASCAR when one recruited assistant objects to the target because stealing from NASCAR is like stealing from America itself. (I’m no fan of NASCAR, but this is a good point. At least O11 came up with a good reason to steal from casino owner Terry Benedict.) And then it throws away even that justification. If the movie developed any sense that NASCAR was an appropriate mark because of its bread-and-circuses role in keeping broke, unhappy Americans mollified, that might have worked, but there’s no indication that this has occurred to anyone involved, either behind the screnes or onscreen. (And the movie embraces another, if smaller-scale, manifestation of bread-and-circuses: child beauty pageants, which Jimmy’s small daughter, Sadie [Farrah Mackenzie], participates in.) That Coens-esque zing without the satire to back it up feels hollow,tweet and it’s worse when all the pieces seem to be in place: they just needed to be knitted together.

Still, Daniel Craig (Spectre, Skyfall) as the safecracker the Logans recruit to help them break into the speedway vault is a hoot: we’ve never seen Craig be broad or funny before, and he’s a revelation. Hilary Swank (New Year’s Eve, Amelia) and Macon Blair (Green Room, Blue Ruin) as FBI agents deserve their own movie. Things could be worse. But they could also be a lot better. And that, alas, might be the most trenchant America-right-now thing about Logan Lucky.

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Hank Graham
Hank Graham
Fri, Aug 25, 2017 11:20pm

“Could’ve been worse, I guess.”
“Hell, you could say that about anything.”
-The Last Picture Show (1971)

And have you noticed how much that movie, about a way of life turning gray and blowing away, resembles the present?

reply to  Hank Graham
Fri, Aug 25, 2017 11:33pm

Totally off-topic, but lately I’ve been thinking my world resembles They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?

George Kite
George Kite
Sat, Dec 23, 2017 3:47am

She didn’t sing the national anthem. The fact you made that mistake is sad.

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  George Kite
Sat, Dec 23, 2017 10:22am

You’re right. She sang “America the Beautiful” at the point a sporting event where the national anthem would normally be sung. Can you explain how this invalidates any of my analysis of the movie?

Charles Bacon
Charles Bacon
reply to  MaryAnn Johanson
Tue, Aug 07, 2018 4:54pm

America The Beautiful is always sung at NASCAR races. (Instead of the traditional national anthem)