What if Steven Soderbergh directed The Dukes of Hazzard? That thought exercise doesn’t map precisely onto the brisk, brash crime caper that is Logan Lucky, but it should give you a good idea of the tone of the thing, which sees the eponymous down-on-their-luck Logan siblings plotting to rob the home of NASCAR, North Carolina’s Charlotte Motor Speedway, during the biggest race of the year, the Coca-Cola 600.
So, it’s a heist movie, something Soderbergh knows a thing or two about, having called the shots on Ocean’s 11 through 13, not to mention the classic Elmore Leonard adaptation, Out of Sight. What sets it apart from his previous endeavours in the field are two things: the setting and the characters. For one thing, this is a flyover state piece of pulp fiction, set in the deep red states of backwoods America, not the coastal metropoles we’re used to seeing on the big screen. For another, our cast are, for the most part, not professional criminals, but down on their luck working class heroes who wouldn’t need a big score if there was any such thing as a steady job in modern America.
Our mastermind is former miner Jimmy Logan (Channing Tatum), his football career killed by a bad knee, who needs the cash to keep seeing his daughter, who’s in the custody of his estranged wife (Katie Holmes). His brother, Clyde (Adam Driver), tends bar with his one good arm, having lost the left in Iraq. Sister Melly (Riley Keough), works in a downmarket beauty salon. They’re all underachievers, labouring under what Clyde thinks is a family curse – they’re all, as the title says, “Logan lucky”.
Bringing much needed criminal expertise to the exercise is Joe Bang, a safe cracker and explosives expert played by a peroxide-haired, tattooed Daniel Craig, clearly having a blast being free of the 007 yoke and oozing dangerous sexuality and down-home charm. Unfortunately, Bang is himself banged up at the time of the planned robbery, but that’s not much of an obstacle for the Logans, who are considerably more canny than anyone expects them to be.
What proceeds is a nimble, footloose sting on what is, as far as the world of the film is concerned, the beating heart of America – the home of NASCAR. It’s here that Soderbergh tips his hand a bit, briefly but unmistakably demonstrating a deep distrust of this element of American culture, with its flag-waving patriotism and militarism, its roaring engines and roaring crowds, its conspicuous consumption and crass commercialism. It’s a case of “hate the sin but love the sinner”, though, as Logan Lucky has ample affection for its cast of hangdog heroes. Imagine a Coen Brothers movie that actually liked its characters – to be fair, there have been a few – and you’re on the right track.
Ultimately, it’s all about the little people sticking it to the Man, but the film is smart enough to know that the Man is often clothed in the things we think we love: NASCAR, energy drinks, fried chicken, Jesus and Coca-Cola. That Soderbergh manages to revel in the spectacle of it all while giving us something to chew on is quite a feat. Those deeper themes never overwhelm the action, though; you’ll find no pontificating on the American condition here. Still, for a fast and funny crime flick, Logan Lucky has plenty of grunt under the hood.