Monday, August 28, 2017

Country Roads to Nowhere

A Review of Steven Soderbergh's "Logan Lucky" 

Steven Soderbergh is a talented filmmaker, maybe even a genius, a man hell-bent on working the Hollywood system on his own terms, which is admirable. But with his latest "return from retirement" has come "Logan Lucky," a West Virginia hillbilly slow burn caper comedy(?) that was sold as a redneck "Ocean's Eleven" but plays like, well, Soderbergh's last venture with Channing Tatum, the famed "Magic Mike," just without Magic Mike's dream of being a business owner or Danny Ocean's desire to win his wife back. Essentially, here is a film devoid of the one thing a comedic protagonist needs: a goal.

Marketed essentially by Soderbergh himself, outside of the system, it has become simply a disappointing bait-and-switch.

The biggest problem with "Logan Lucky" is that it is just so slow...and on purpose. Here is a handsomely made (no doubt), decently budgeted heist film that moves at the rhythm of an indie and with the heaviness to boot. Jimmy Logan (Tatum) is a down-and-out blue collar divorced father with an old football injury that keeps him from holding gainful employment. Recently fired from a job fixing the tunnels under the "Charlut Moter Speedwaaay," he enlists his brother, Clyde (Adam Driver), an Iraq War veteran with one arm, and his hairdresser sister, Mellie (Riley Keough) to help him with a scheme to rip off the cash flow from a huge NASCAR race.

To get started, the Logans have to bust out the "in-car-cer-raTed," Joe Bang!! (Daniel Craig), a muscle-y goofball with a talent for making explosives. Bang!! insists that his two dimwitted hillbilly brothers, Sam (Jack Quaid) and Fish (Brian Gleeson), be invited into the fold as well.

All of the Bang!! brothers are from some foreign planet but certainly not the modern-day South, which this movie repeatedly treats as a huge joke, starting with the totally off-the-wall drawls resembling nothing authentic. Craig has garnered plenty of praise from fans of the film, but his best stuff is in the trailer and I had already laughed.

And the rest of the cast is just a mixed bag of random performance choices that almost never fit together. The characters are all nice enough, likable, good people, but there is a lack of authenticity all around this film. And only a select few of the players seem in tune with the South or Southern people.

The best of this film, written by a fake screenwriter named Rebecca Blunt, who is most likely either Soderbergh himself or his wife, Jules Asner, involves the sweet and truly Southern subplot of Jimmy and his young daughter, Sadie (Farrah Mackenzie, with the film's truest performance), a Little Miss Beauty Pageant Queen, with a love for John Denver's most famous ode to her Daddy's home of West Virginia. She lives with her mother, played by Katie Holmes, who surprisingly gives one of the more believable performances.

Which brings us to the just wildly miscast Adam Driver as the younger brother, Clyde. He is occupying some sort of Coen Brothers a la "Raising Arizona" world that is so far from the milieu this film puts forth, it is borderline embarrassing...to him and Southerners at large. It is one of his few misfires, as he is usually a stellar performer.

And I've yet to mention Seth McFarlane's British energy drink mogul/race car owner, nor the bit parts played by Katherine Waterston, as a nurse and Jimmy's new crush, who seems to not even know this film is set in the South, which is actually a good choice, and Hillary Swank, as a cold FBI agent on the Logan's trail, put in place to, well,........oh! I give up!

So, the heist itself...it is elaborate and cool and well-executed. The prison break sequences are superb and another subplot that upstages the film as a whole. Dwight Yoakam brings a welcome breath of actual fresh country to this otherwise tone-deaf venture as the prison warden, who likes to throw around a few key phrases about his unbreakable system. Riley Keough plays well on the fringes of these scenes and is likewise steady in her performance. But everything around these little subplots, the story of the why and how of the heist is just totally forgettable and way too simple. And it moves at a muted snail's pace.

Steven Soderbergh made his biggest waves with caper comedies. Most notable was his work with George Clooney on the brilliant "Out of Sight" and, of course, "Ocean's Eleven," perhaps the finest heist comedy ever made. These movies succeed on authentic charm and steadfast tongue-in-cheek dialogue borne of the lore of the con artist taking what's his from The Man, whoever he may be.

"Logan Lucky" gives us a protagonist that, for all of Tatum's decent work, just doesn't have the slick charm of a man that could pull a scam like this off. On top of that, the movie just isn't that funny, a comedy simply lost in its setting, sometimes even nearing offensively so, which took this particular Southerner and movie lover, even sometimes Soderbergh fan, so out of the film that he didn't even notice a point, one that almost every cinephile out there (and Heaven forbid you cross this movie over in Letterboxd land) seems to have got.

Maybe next time, Mr. Soderbergh, at least now that you're back?
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★★ out of ★★★★★


Screened at Regal Pinnacle Stadium 18 in Knoxville, TN, on Saturday, August 19, 2017.

7 comments:

  1. I had planned to see this in theaters but then I read a review were the reviwer mentioned he thought the film was being overpraised because it was Soderbergh and that made me pause. I'll wait for DVD.

    I'm bummed to hear Driver is miscast, he's my main reason for wanting to see it.

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    1. Yes. It is quite clearly being overpraised because of Soderbergh, who is a totally competent director. He even goes above and beyond sometimes and makes GREAT movies (Traffic, Ocean's Eleven, The Informant!, Behind the Candelabra). I've found him to be pretty hit and miss with even interesting me in his work though. Not a huge fan, so that might explain why his being at the helm didn't do much for me.

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  2. I'm still shocked you didn't like this film.

    I know this is shocking, but this is the only film by Steven Soderbergh that I've seen. I'll try to change that soon, as I plan to watch Traffic later this week.

    I liked this film A LOT more than you did. The performances are excellent, the screenplay is BRILLIANT, the editing is especially great, & the use of John Denver's songs (namely the song Some Days Are Diamonds (Some Days Are Stone), which was excellently used at the beginning of the film) was fantastic. I'm not usually one that laughs at PG-13 comedies (since I like a lot of dark/mean-spirited humor), but I did laugh a lot at this. It's definitely in my top 10 of the year so far.

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    1. Glad it worked for you. It just failed to grab me. If you want to watch a much much funnier Soderbergh film, I can recommend The Informant!. It is amazing.

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    2. I do own The Informant!, but I have not watched it yet. I plan to soon.

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  3. It really is just Ocean's Gone Country, and while I enjoyed it, I thought it didn't do a great job of walking the line between love of its people/setting and making fun of them. I thought the performances and script were fun enough to overcome most of that, though. Totally agree that the stuff between Tatum, Katie Holmes, and their daughter is the best part of the movie, but I'm sad you didn't like the rest.

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    1. Most definitely, though not nearly as clever and fun as any of the Ocean's movies. Alexander Payne knows how to ride that line you're talking about, so do The Coen Brothers. Soderbergh, who is actually born and raised in the fucking South clearly doesn't. Didn't work for me as a whole at all, though it had its moments. Wish it had.

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