Logan Lucky takes the award for the year’s most misfortunately titled film. James Mangold’s moody superhero film, Logan, was just out nearly six months ago. How did no one during pre-production of this film speak up to change the title? Ironically, this film has something to do with a family’s curse of unluckiness, which is fitting since it is nowhere near as good as Mangold’s film.
Channing Tatum and Adam Driver star as West Virginian brothers Jimmy and Clyde Logan. Jimmy the elder was a high school football star who married his sweetheart (Katie Holmes), only to blow out his knee and lose his college scholarship. Now he’s divorced and shares custody of his daughter with his ex-wife and her new husband, a nouveau riche used car salesman. Clyde, an Iraq war veteran with a missing hand to show for it, tends bar at a local dive. As Clyde, Driver uses an over-the-top accent that sounds like he copied Tim Blake Nelson’s from Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?
The source of the film’s title comes from a supposed Logan family curse, which Clyde claims is why he lost his arm and why Jimmy blew out his knee; it’s the cause of all the family’s downfalls. Then Jimmy gets in a bar fight with an energy drink tycoon who also owns a NASCAR racing team. After the fight, Jimmy concocts a plan to rob the Charlotte Motor Speedway in the neighboring state of North Carolina, partly because he just lost a job patching up a sinkhole underneath the racetrack, but partly because… well, to break the family curse? I don’t know. The film never really gives us much of an explanation for why the Logans decide to rob the Charlotte Motor Speedway other than to prove they can do it.
Next, they enlist a demolition expert, a character literally named Joe Bang, who can make MacGuyver-type bombs out of gummy bears and salt. Daniel Craig, donning a bleach blond crew cut and hillbilly accent reminiscent of Hee Haw, is worth the price of admission. Joe has some of the best moments, and Craig has a hell of a lot of fun stepping out of his James Bond tuxedo for a change.
Logan Lucky works on many levels, but it fails on just as many. Driver and Craig turn in solid character work. Riley Keough has a good turn as Mellie, the Logans’ hairdresser sister who knows everything about muscle cars. All the heist stuff is cool and as inventive as one would expect (it involves pneumatic tubes that feed all the cash from the concession stands into a vault underneath the stadium). Jack Quaid and Brian Gleeson add even more comedic relief as Joe Bang’s born-again knuckleheaded cousins. But there’s a lot that doesn’t work that is actually so supremely annoying that it throws the whole movie off.
Let’s start with Seth MacFarlane, famous for creating Family Guy and a slew of even-less-funny animated series for the Fox network. He shows up here as the Australian energy drink tycoon. (MacFarlane states his accent was supposed to be British, but that is not a British accent.) Sure, he’s a successful producer, but his acting is just awful. He drops the accent about every fourth word that comes out of his mouth. It’s a bit of stunt casting, similar to Soderbergh’s casting of Albert Brooks as the obnoxious rich guy in Out of Sight.
MacFarlane isn’t the only thing that isn’t working here. There’s a whole offshoot sequence narrated by Sebastian Stan’s NASCAR driver that veers off from the main plot and serves little purpose. It’s supposed to explain that he’s so beyond rich and such a health nut that he is out of touch with his NASCAR’s fan base. This sequence also sets up something that happens later on, but there is little payoff to rationalize this montage that is tacked on so late in the film.
Then there’s Hilary Swank. Her character comes in the third act. She seems to be trying her hardest character work here as an uptight FBI agent who says things like, “I hate airtight alibis.” She is so buttoned-up her whole body appears to be clenching itself. Is that supposed to elicit laughs? The same question goes for the Sebastian Stan sequence. A lot of this can probably be blamed on the script not being very good to begin with.
Which brings me to the level of discomfort watching what is basically Redneck Ocean’s Eleven. What with the events going on in the American South right now, where men and women with no sense of irony are carrying tiki torches to stop the removal of Confederate statues, this is not exactly the greatest time to come out with a film laden with themes of Southern pride, including a scene of an auditorium full of people singing John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads.”
Soderbergh came out of (a short) retirement to make this film, which he calls “an experiment in indie distribution.” Sure that’s cool, but for his experiment, why did he pick something so blatantly pandering to a mainstream audience and not go for something edgy like Sex, Lies, and Videotape, or another comedic romp like Schizopolis, or even a politically relevant film like Erin Brockovich? Instead, one of the greatest filmmakers of our time has brought us an over-inflated episode of The Dukes of Hazzard.