Monday, August 21, 2017

In Theaters: LOGAN LUCKY (2017)

(US - 2017)

Directed by Steven Soderbergh. Written by Rebecca Blunt. Cast: Channing Tatum, Adam Driver, Daniel Craig, Hilary Swank, Seth MacFarlane, Riley Keough, Katie Holmes, Katherine Waterston, Dwight Yoakam, Sebastian Stan, Brian Gleeson, Jack Quaid, Farrah McKenzie, David Denman, Macon Blair, Jon Eyez, Deneen Tyler, Ann Mahoney, Jim O'Heir. (PG-13, 118 mins)

Steven Soderbergh cried wolf on retiring from feature films a number of times before finally making it official after 2013's SIDE EFFECTS, but he never really went away. He directed HBO's Liberace biopic BEHIND THE CANDELABRA and all 20 episodes of Cinemax's two-season series THE KNICK. He didn't direct the MAGIC MIKE sequel MAGIC MIKE XXL but he served as its cinematographer under his D.P. pseudonym "Peter Andrews" and he edited it as "Mary Ann Bernard." He was also executive producer on other series like Amazon's RED OAKS, Starz's THE GIRLFRIEND EXPERIENCE (a spinoff of his experimental 2009 Sasha Gray vehicle), and Netflix's upcoming GODLESS, in addition to producing indies like WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN and Spike Lee's DA SWEET BLOOD OF JESUS. In short, Soderbergh is working more than ever, and with an arsenal of pseudonyms that's approaching Joe D'Amato and Jess Franco levels, his return to the big screen was only a matter of time. LOGAN LUCKY, shot by "Peter Andrews," edited by "Mary Ann Bernard," and written by the unknown "Rebecca Blunt," which is already assumed to be yet another Soderbergh alias, finds the filmmaker in familiar territory, insofar as it's a heist movie that puts it in the same wheelhouse as his OCEAN'S ELEVEN trilogy and OUT OF SIGHT, and like the OCEAN'S movies, it's played for laughs, but Soderbergh's feature film homecoming has some tricks up its sleeve that make it very much its own unique thing.

In his fourth Soderbergh film, Channing Tatum stars as Jimmy Logan, a West Virginia construction worker fired by his crew boss after failing to disclose the bum knee from a high school football injury that ended his once-plausible chances of making it to the NFL. His ex-wife Bobbie Jo (Katie Holmes) lives just across the state line in North Carolina and is planning to move with their daughter Sadie (Farrah McKenzie) to Lynchburg, VA, where her wealthy second husband (David Denman) is opening a new car dealership. Jimmy receives little consolation from his younger brother Clyde (Adam Driver), a bartender with a prosthetic left arm in place of the one he lost in Iraq. Clyde reminds Jimmy of the "Logan Curse," which has affected generations of their family, prompting Jimmy to take drastic measures to reverse it. With the help of their baby sister Mellie (Riley Keough), the Logan siblings team up to rob the cash deposit vault of the Charlotte Motor Speedway during the final NASCAR race of the season by taking advantage of the pneumatic tube system that moves throughout and under the speedway via chutes, a system Jimmy discovered on his last job with the construction crew, remedying a series of sinkholes that formed beneath the speedway property. The Logans enlist the aid of appropriately-named explosives man Joe Bang ("introducing Daniel Craig"), and are not deterred by the problematic fact that he's still locked up ("I am in-car-cer-ra-ted!" Bang sounds out for the Logans) for another five months and the job needs to be pulled off before the construction crew completes their work in four weeks.

Other figures drift in and out of the story in inspired, Coen Bros.-like situations, from obnoxious British business mogul and NASCAR team owner Max Chilblain (Seth MacFarlane, looking like a cross between Mandy Patinkin and Avery Schreiber); Dayton White (Sebastian Stan), a Chilblain driver who suffers a bad reaction after being contractually obligated to drink a Chilblain-endorsed energy drink on camera; Joe Bang's lunkhead brothers Sam Bang (Brian Gleeson) and Fish Bang (Jack Quaid); and, much later, humorless, no-nonsense FBI agent Sarah Grayson (Hilary Swank). Soderbergh goes against your gut expectations by avoiding the easy trap of milking these characters for condescending laughs, instead opting for a Coen Bros. approach where he shows much empathy for the Logans, and even for Joe Bang's brothers, who are more the stereotypical hillbilly yokels to a certain degree (they're introduced toilet seat-pitching and bragging that they "know everything there is to know about computers," including "all the Twitters"). Jimmy's plan is ridiculous and damn near impossible but time and again, he, along with Clyde, Mellie, and Joe Bang, prove themselves quite resourceful and have clearly thought this whole thing through even as obstacles constantly threaten to halt the job. The often absurdist humor doesn't approach the lunacy of, say, RAISING ARIZONA, but rather, the more deadpan side of FARGO. Tatum and especially Driver really nail the tone here and are gifted with numerous bits of quotable dialogue. Sure, Clyde's prosthetic arm is played for some easy laughs, but they're great laughs, and one brief detour into a prison riot negotiation (the standoff arranged to get Joe Bang out of jail) between the exasperated warden (Dwight Yoakam) and inmates demanding the prison library stock the titles in the Game of Thrones series that George R.R. Martin has yet to publish is brilliantly funny, as they refuse to believe that the new books don't exist and the warden can't convince them that the TV series has moved past the novels. LOGAN LUCKY could maybe run 15 minutes shorter and it has a few too many characters than it has time to properly showcase (MacFarlane, Stan, and Katherine Waterston as a nurse in a mobile free clinic are barely in it, and Swank doesn't even appear until 95 minutes in), but it's a lot of fun and a reminder that "offbeat" and "quirky" can still be a good thing. Plus it's got one perfect scene involving Sadie and John Denver's "Take Me Home, Country Roads," that's maybe the sweetest thing Soderbergh's ever done.

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