Ain’t nothing ‘Lucky’ about Soderbergh’s thrilling return to cinema

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Grade: 4.0 / 5.0

After a four-year “retirement” (hiatus) from film, Soderbergh is back as the director-producer-editor-cinematographer-and-potentially-writer of “Ocean’s 7-11” — wait, I mean “Logan Lucky.”

This comedic southern-fried crime caper would seemingly be a satirical takedown of the southern way of life, with those cliched southern draws, flag-waving civilians and NASCAR. But thanks to careful and considerate direction (and everything else) from Soderbergh, the film wisely puts depth and likeability into each character — overcoming the stereotypes that other, less sympathetic directors would rely on. I’m looking at Adam McKay’s pre-Oscar win “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby” as an immediate, similarly hilarious Deep South takedown.

Starring Channing Tatum as the title character, the film deepens its story by giving a heart to its core character. Logan is a former local quarterback star that had his likely-prosperous football playing career cut short due to a long-term, debilitating knee injury. Now, doing all he can to care for his young daughter Sadie (Farrah Mackenzie), Logan does tractor work for a mining company contracted with the Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Yet when Logan’s boss learns of his “pre-existing condition” — i.e. his knee injury — he lays off Logan under the guidance of the big-business-owning tractor company. But this isn’t Logan’s only problem: he can barely afford to keep his house, hasn’t been able to turn on his cell phone for multiple months and splits custody time with his ex-wife, who is now married to a rich Ford car dealer. Along with this, there’s the “Lucky” curse that seems to plague nearly all of the Lucky family.

Because of these dire circumstances, Logan knows he must resort to crime — well, one last crime, that is.

Recruiting his veteran, bartending, one-handed brother Clyde (Adam Driver) — he lost his forearm down in military action — and sister Mellie (Riley Keough), Logan stages a plan to rip off the Charlotte Motor Speedway. If successful, the heist will give Logan and his family enough money to never have to worry about insurance, phone bills, dead-end jobs or keeping their houses again.

From here, Soderbergh takes the film on a deliriously funny joyride. Anyone who has seen “Ocean’s Eleven” — a heist gem from when Soderbergh was at the height of his power — will know what to expect. While there could be a reading of the “Trump’s America” context of the redneck-ness of most of the film, “Logan Lucky” mostly stays away from grand statements. Instead, it poses as an unpretentious entertainment-first kind of film.

In it, Seth MacFarlane pops up as a pompous, rich British dude who causes the brothers more trouble than they intend while providing some cheeky laughs. Adam Driver shines with the slowest-of-slow southern drawls, and Daniel Craig relishes in playing a smarter-than-you-think convict/demolition expert spewing the power of “science.” Lastly, Channing Tatum makes a strong case once again for why he’s quietly one of better actors working today. “Magic Mike,” “Foxcatcher,” and “Logan Lucky” are each wildly different performances, all nailed by Tatum’s ability to be likeable, then morally questionable, then back again.

The biggest standout, though, may be Riley Keough. Coming off a Golden Globe-nominated work in the Soderbergh-produced Starz television series “The Girlfriend Experience” and the stunning “It Comes at Night,” Keough provides the voice of reason for both brothers — and thus, the audience.

Filmed in wide lenses, with muted colors and a rather “sterile” shooting style — which Soderbergh’s digitally shot work as cinematographer has been called before — the craft is solid, if not attention-grabbing. But the script breezes along, fortunately never calling attention to things the film’s small budget couldn’t afford. In fact, the rather intimate shooting style makes the heist set piece and a corresponding, extended deadpan skit in a locked-down prison make for an even greater appreciation of the economical style Soderbergh chose to shoot “Logan Lucky” in.

While, as a Soderbergh heist film, “Logan Lucky” is never quite as exciting as the first “Ocean’s” film — and the heist itself is rather anti-climatic — the film is easy to enjoy and a hard film to not find entertaining. And as an independently financed and distributed film, “Logan Lucky” proves that good ole fashioned, intelligently made, economical mid-budget movies can provide more entertainment value than overstuffed blockbusters.

Welcome back, Steven Soderbergh! But please, don’t leave the big screen again.

Contact Levi Hill at [email protected].