If there is something wrong with “Logan Lucky,” I simply can’t find it. After a hiatus from moviemaking, Steven Soderbergh is back with a blast of pure escapist cinema.
This terrific caper film, about working-class Joes pulling off a stupendous bank robbery at a NASCAR raceway, is a textbook example of how to create an exciting and entertaining film with the right director guiding the right talents through the right screenplay. Soderbergh takes a fairly standard premise — two inexperienced brothers recruit sketchy collaborators to crack a foolproof vault — and seasons it with sophistication and lighthearted charm.
He crams almost every scene with nutty bits of business and gets some dry laughs from the honest truth. The film is set in a part of America where folks play horseshoes at county fairs by tossing toilet seats. But there’s not a bit of condescension in its tone. This is a chance to laugh with — not at — what Jeff Foxworthy calls “the glorious absence of sophistication.”
Channing Tatum plays Jimmy Logan, a West Virginia good old boy of the kind who needs an estimate from the barber before he gets a haircut. Jimmy is divorced but devoted to his firecracker of a little daughter, Sadie (magnetic Farrah Mackenzie).
She and her mama, Bobbie Jo (Katie Holmes), have moved up to mansion living with stepdaddy, an auto dealer tycoon. Jimmy was a high school sports hero whose bum knee sidelined him from a promising pro football career. The bad leg — considered an insurance risk — even gets him dismissed from his job, tunneling for an excavation company.
As Sadie’s mom prepares to move across state lines to live near her husband’s newest dealership, Jimmy will need a major cash infusion to remain in touch. Conveniently, the last time he was employed, burrowing deep shafts to fix sinkholes beneath Charlotte Motor Speedway, he came close to the racetrack’s mega-vault.
Jimmy’s brother Clyde, a one-handed war veteran now tending bar, frets about the Logan curse, but signs on as a matter of blood loyalty. Sister Mellie (Riley Keough), a hairdresser with a better command of back-road routes than Google Maps, joins to show that male race drivers have nothing a good woman can’t match.
The same kin ties bind the co-conspirators on the raid, the Bang brothers. They’re explosives specialist Joe (Daniel Craig on a comic tear we’ve never seen before), self-proclaimed computer savant Fish (Jack Quaid), who knows “all the Twitters” and little brother Sam (Brian Gleeson). The Bangs seem to have a family curse of their own, related to slapstick bumbling.
As with Soderbergh’s “Ocean’s” trilogy, “Logan Lucky” is a bank heist procedural packed with vibrant, mostly lovable characters. Jimmy tapes up a list of best practices for bank felons, and the note “Don’t get greedy” is the standout. This is a movie without a fixed villain, and the Logans don’t want to act bad, either. They don’t kick in doors or wave weapons. Jimmy’s intricate plan is the logical equal of the speedway racing footage Soderbergh cuts into the story so thrillingly. Which way do you go next? How do you pass that barrier? Can you reach the finish line before they catch up?
The beauty of the movie is giving us characters to root for — and against — but no one to hate. Unrecognizable in a goofy wig and giant mustache, Seth MacFarlane plays a dreadful English race sponsor who complicates the scheme. Dwight Yoakam, as an imperious prison warden, is clouted like a piñata in terms of strategic ingenuity when his prisoners stage a mock riot — an uprising that will have “Game of Thrones” fans laughing to the point of breathlessness.
Hillary Swank appears late in the film as an FBI agent investigating the case with a laser like focus and virtually steals the show from her co-stars. She’s not an antagonist, really, and the fact that she’s rather humorless sets up one of the best last laughs in ages.