No matter how vociferously the retirement was emphasized and how many venomous arrows were projected in the general direction of the modern movie industry, there was little doubt Steven Soderbergh would eventually find his way back to the big screen as a director. Four years after his last feature, the odd pharmaceutical thriller Side Effects, Soderbergh has decided to give moviemaking another go with Logan Lucky, a movie with enough echoes of his greatest commercial successes that he was all but obligated to cheekily reference it in the dialogue. When a set of bedraggled Southerners pulls of a heist of the Charlotte Motor Speedway, it’s dubbed by newscasters “Ocean’s 7-Eleven.”
Logan Lucky stars Channing Tatum as Jimmy Logan, one-third of a set of siblings who call back to skills acquired in a slightly checkered past when fortune has turned against them. Jimmy recruits his brother, Clyde (Adam Driver), his sister, Mellie (Riley Keough), and a small set of additional co-conspirators (included an incarcerated bomb expert, played with zest by Daniel Craig) into his major scheme, which included a stealth jailbreak, an electronic payment system sabotage (to maximize how much cash is moving through the targeted facility), and a procession of intricate toppling dominoes that lead to a windfall of ill-gotten gains. As is often the case with such narratives, about two-thirds of the elaborate details in the screenplay are cunningly inventive and the remaining chunk drastically strain credibility. (The screenplay is credited to Rebecca Blunt, which is a whole other mess.) Effective suspension of disbelief will vary.
Soderbergh clicks all the pieces into place with consummate craft, displaying an enduring touch for moments of offhand wit. He also can’t entirely disguise the nasty divots in the film’s tundra. There are stretches that simply don’t work, either because of clumsy acting (Hilary Swank continues her baffling trend of giving terrible performances in nearly everything except for the two films for which she justly won Oscars), superfluous plot material (the drama surrounding a children’s beauty pageant), or both (this is where I’ll type the name Seth MacFarlane and move on). It’s as if Soderbergh was hoping for the overstuffed verve found in a comic crime novel by Carl Hiaasen or Elmore Leonard (who he’s adapted beautifully in the past). There’s fiercely shrewd editing to those books, though, culling the material down to the essentials. Logan Lucky is entertaining, but essential it is not.