Soderbergh’s return to feature films is okay I guess

FILM by Jorge Ignacio Castillo

Logan Lucky
Opens Aug. 18

I find this whole business of Steven Soderbergh backpedalling on retirement just an itty-bitty bit aggravating. First of all, nobody believed the Oscar-winner would stick to his 2013 decision. Second, it seemed like he was never really gone: Soderbergh produced four (four!!!) TV shows during his “retirement”, and directed every episode of The Knick.

And now he’s back. What does he want, a party in his honour?

I wouldn’t mind as much if he “returned” for something ambitious, but Logan Lucky is pretty standard fare. Of course, when we’re talking about Soderbergh films, the batting average is very high.

Still, it’s annoying when a filmmaker retreads well-trodden territory.

Anyway. In his fourth collaboration with Soderbergh, Channing Tatum is Jimmy Logan, the oldest son of a family plagued by misfortune. Oh, woe, every time luck smiles on a member of the Logan clan some catastrophe ruins everything. Lately, things are worse than usual: Jimmy lost his job and his ex-wife is about to move out of state with their daughter.

Determined to change his luck, Jimmy enlists his one-armed brother Clyde (Adam Driver) and actual criminal Joe Bang (Daniel Craig) to rob the Nascar Coca Cola 600 — the most important race of the NASCAR year (I’m told). What they lack in resources they make up for with blue-collar ingenuity — although their collective short fuses constantly threaten to derail their schemes.

If you think Logan Lucky is basically a redneck Ocean’s Eleven, you would be right for the most part (the movie itself brings up the comparison, presumably to preemptively defuse obvious comparisons by snotty critics). It’s also amusing and well-crafted, so if you’re not asking for a lot, it’s okay — basically Hell or High Water-lite. And sure, Logan Lucky acknowledges Trump Nation’s problems (chronic unemployment, heavy drinking, living vicariously through sports) while treating the Nazis, sorry, the people with respect. In fact, the only villain is Seth MacFarlane as a British millionaire who fancies himself a race car entrepreneur.

The auteur’s traditional diverse cast is hit and miss. Tatum and Riley Keough hit all the right notes (they’re Soderbergh regulars, after all), while Adam Driver is amusing enough to make the audience forget he is seriously miscast. MacFarlane is distractingly terrible and Katie Holmes is… well, Katie Holmes. The real coup of Logan Lucky is letting Daniel Craig roam off-leash. After years of being stuck in 007 mode, one forgets Craig can be a live wire (as seen in Layer Cake and Munich).

Soderbergh’s story prowess comes across as usual. The fairly complicated heist is easy to follow and we understand the repercussions of every setback without too much exposition. He plays the audience like a fiddle: just when you think he’s gone soft, Soderbergh turns the tables. The filmmaker is as gifted as always, but he needs to venture beyond his zone of comfort, like Christopher Nolan.

Logan Lucky is all right but inconsequential. It’s big idea is “never underestimate redneck America”; also, “planning and preparation make luck irrelevant”. Nothing we didn’t know before we watched the movie. ❧