Soderbergh heads south for latest caper in ‘Logan Lucky’

Director Steven Soderbergh’s remake “Ocean’s Eleven” in 2001 was a lively crime caper with a stellar cast led by George Clooney, Julia Roberts, Brad Pitt and Matt Damon. After two sequels, Soderbergh took a break from such epics, and even “retired” after directing “Behind the Candelabra” in 2013.

Well, his idleness did not last long, as here he is, back with another elaborate detailing of a clever heist, this time with a Southern flavor in “Logan Lucky.” In fact, Soderbergh raised money on his own to finance “Logan Lucky” so he would not have to deal with studios, and gathered a cast willing to work for a scale against with-profit considerations.

The director was working with a script credited to Rebecca Blunt, an unknown writer of whom the name apparently is a pseudonym, believed to be residing in the United Kingdom. Well, whatever, the screenplay is masterful and whoever Rebecca Blunt is, this writer captured the nuances of Southern culture and put together a clever heist in the process.

Channing Tatum, who worked with Soderbergh in “Magic Mike,” is the central character in “Logan Lucky,” playing Jimmy Logan, a West Virginia coal miner. Jimmy, along with his brother Clyde (Adam Driver) believe they  are cursed. Jimmy was a promising football star until he blew out his knee. Clyde, a bartender at a place called Duck Tape, lost his left hand while serving a tour in Iraq — the kicker being that the explosion that cost him his hand took place while en route to the airbase to fly home.

The next hit on the Logan men is that Jimmy is let go from his job because his bad knee is seen as a pre-existing condition and a potential liability in the mines. Oh, and by the way, Jimmy is divorced and his wife Bobbie Jo (Katie Holmes) is remarried and has full custody of their daughter, Sadie (a remarkable Farrah Mackenzie).

The Logans’ sister Mellie (Riley Keough) does not share her brothers’ belief they are cursed and seems to do quite well for herself as a hairdresser who provides the proper substitute mother duties whenever Sadie is visiting her father.

Before losing his job, Jimmy’s company was working on fixing some sinkholes under the Charlotte Motor Speedway, a main venue for NASCAR. While laboring underground, Jimmy saw the system used by the track’s extensive concessions operations to dispatch cash to the facility’s vault.

This prompts Jimmy to come up with a plan to tap into that money-moving system and make a big score.

Clyde is at first reluctant to join in but eventually comes aboard. Mellie also is willing.

They need help, however, and know a safe-cracker/explosives expert. Trouble is, the guy — appropriately named Joe Bang — is in prison. But the Logan brothers believe they have a way to spring him temporarily from the pen, do the job and get him back in prison before anyone notices he is missing.

The casting of Joe Bang was an interesting twist. He is played by Daniel Craig. Yep, James Bond himself. But sporting a burr haircut (his hair is so blonde as to seem gray — and decorated with tattoos, Craig’s Joe Bang (you just HAVE to say his full name every time you mention it) is a masterful performance — you almost forget Craig is British.

Joe Bang insists that they enlist the services of his two brothers, Fish (Jack Quaid) and Sam (Brian Gleeson), the latter who is supposedly a computer wiz although he would look seriously out of place in any high-tech facility.

With Mellie serving as a driver, this unlikely group of thieves is set.

Much like his “Oceans” movies, Soderbergh shows all the moves made in pulling off this heist, even the setbacks, then revisits key moments via flashbacks to show how the twists in the plan came to be.

Once the robbery is complete, Jimmy fakes out some of the team, a necessary move to make sure the heat, in the form of Special Agent Sarah Grayson (Hilary Swank), does not unravel the intricate theft.

“Logan Lucky” is a clever movie with a lot of heart. Tatum and Mackenzie share a lot of chemistry as Jimmy and daughter Sadie. An opening scene in which Sadie assists her father as he repairs a vehicle sets the tone.

Katherine Waterston has a few standout minutes as Sylvia Harrison, a doctor who has a small clinic on wheels and was a high school classmate of Jimmy’s. Their encounter has Jimmy mulling the possibilities of romance.

There are touches of humor throughout and the performances are all spot on. Tatum and Driver do not remotely resemble each other but their interaction has the viewer believe they are brothers, two guys who grew up together and know each other well.

Craig is a gem as Joe Bang, serving up some of the funniest and most memorable scenes in the movie, while Keough adds some depth as the sister who may look like she just stepped out of a “Dukes of Hazzard” episode but has a pretty stable grip on life.

“Logan Lucky” is from top to bottom a fun movie, one that can be enjoyed again and again. One of those movies that when you see it a second or third time you may catch something you didn’t see during the first viewing.

Guilty pleasure time

Speaking of movies with a Southern setting, Netflix is offering a little movie that sat on the shelf for a few years but really is a buried treasure. My friend and colleague Michelle Mills referred this movie to me. It is titled “Tucker and Dale vs. Evil.”

Yes, it is a horror movie and has its moments of gore. But it parodies all those teens-in-the-wilderness slasher movies as well as giving nods to “Deliverance.”

Co-written with Morgan Jurgenson and directed by Eli Craig, “Tucker and Dale” centers around two hillbilly buddies who could easily be Southern outback versions of Laurel and Hardy. Tucker (Alan Tudyk) could be the Oliver Hardy character, pretty much the one in charge of this duo but a person who clearly is a screw-up himself. He is not rotund like Hardy but he is quick to try and blame his buddy for their predicaments even if those charges are not merited.

Meanwhile, Dale (Tyler Labine) is the Stan Laurel character, a sweet guy basically but hindered by insecurity and self-esteem problems. While he absorbs a lot of criticism from Tucker he also gets a lot of support from his friend, who deep down sees Dale as a man very capable to living a fulfilling life if only he could gain confidence.

Tucker and Dale have purchased a “summer home” in the woods that is the epitome of a fixer-upper. You just know the minute they step into this dilapidated structure they will be in over their heads.

Meanwhile, a van full of teenagers arrives and these young people are planning on camping nearby. The leader of this group is Chad (Jess Moss), one of those creepy guys who takes delight in telling his fellow campers a chilling story of a mass murder years earlier of young people who came to this camping spot.

Tucker and Dale take a break from their renovating to go fishing and encounter one of the girls in the group, Alison (Katrina Bowden), who panics when she sees them and nearly drowns. The good old boys rescue her and take her to their pathetic cabin so she can recover. Naturally, the other teens, with Chad leading the charge, assume that Tucker and Dale are the stereotypical crazed backwoods psychos who kidnapped Alison and may do God knows what to her, and everything they do from then on is seen as crazed and murderous.

Some hilariously gruesome mishaps occur, and people with a sick sense of humor, like me, can find this thoroughly and gut-bustingly funny.

“Tucker and Dale vs. Evil” is yet another small film that deserves more attention than it initially received. Of course, being of the horror/comedy genre, it will not be pleasant for those who find wood-chipper scenes unsettling.

 

 

 

 

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