Starring Channing Tatum. Rated PG
Who among us predicted that Channing Tatum would become a major actor, equally adept at light-fingered comedy and low-key contemporary dramas? Well, Stephen Soderbergh did, for one. The veteran writer-director took the athlete turned model turned dance-movie guy and found a way to harness all his skills for the casually crowd-pleasing Magic Mike movies.
Soderbergh raises the stakes for Tatum in the sublimely entertaining Logan Lucky by giving him a meaty lead that also anchors a sly-eyed yet compassionate look at America in its twilight. He plays Jimmy Logan—everyone just calls him by that last name, vaguely associated with a family curse—an Iraq War veteran with a bad knee and a crappy West Virginia coal-mining job he’s sorry to lose when the owners learn of his “pre-existing condition”.
Logan’s kid brother, Clyde (Adam Driver, hilarious, but sporting a different accent), likewise lost part of his arm in that benighted conflict, which hangs over Trump country like an unnamed disease that everyone has got used to. Clyde runs a dive bar, but it’s not that hard for Logan to talk him into an almost impossibly complicated scheme to rob a nearby racetrack during a NASCAR event. It seems there are sinkholes opening under the track, and with his mining experience… Well, you have to just go with the flow in a heist show like this.
One of the main intricacies involves busting a safe-blowing specialist called Joe Bang, played by a peroxided Daniel Craig. Joe, who’s already in jail, wants his hillbilly brothers (Jack Quaid and Brian Gleeson, sons of Dennis and Brendan, respectively) to help pull off the job, and Logan’s sexy sister (Riley Keough, Elvis’s granddaughter) is in on it too.
One of the main pleasures in this multigenerational family affair is watching how much the whole cast enjoys the two-hour ride. (Its numerous cameos include Seth MacFarlane in a fright wig and a silly cockney accent.) But the film has a melancholy side, capturing the class and regional tension building just before Charlottesville. A sense of desperate tribalism hangs over the story (credited to fictitious screenwriter Rebecca Blunt), with the NASCAR crowd standing for a heavily militarized opening ceremony and another audience singing a John Denver ditty along with Logan’s precocious daughter (adorable Farrah Mackenzie) at a backwoods pageant.
Dashed dreams weigh down this would-be gang—ironically dubbed Ocean’s 7-11 by local wags—but Soderbergh makes time for a seemingly endless string of sharp twists and wacky side jokes, as when a prison riot turns into an argument pitting the Game of Thrones book series against the TV version. These quirks ramp up the fun, aided by David Holmes’s killer score and lots of obscure ’60s and ’70s tunes. And they don’t get in the way of the director’s, or our, affection for these left-behinds who refuse to stay down.