(Dir. Steven Soderbergh)
If I asked you recall a movie about a curse, you might bring to mind either something steeped in the aesthetics of horror or, perhaps, something about superstitious innocence. Children, for example, often believe in curses. In the case of Steven Soderbergh’s new movie, LOGAN LUCKY, a curse is a significant part of the premise – as potentially indicated in the film’s title – even though the dark and gruesome elements typical of horror movies are nowhere to be found. In keeping with other tropes about movie curses, the mentality of the major characters in LOGAN LUCKY is something quite childlike. Despite most of the dramatis personae being full grown adults, they are sometimes terrified of mundane things. But, then again, aren’t we all afraid of mundane things from time to time? More than werewolves, vampires, or zombies, quintessential issues such as being able to pay bills, spend time with our families, and enjoy our work can feel extremely dire, if threatened. In Soderbergh’s picture, the Logan family faces a mundane curse: a doom to fail at whatever might change their stars to become a healthier, happier family. No curse will keep Jimmy Logan (Channing Tatum) down, though – he has a plan to change his family’s luck. He just has to get something right for once.
The plot of LOGAN LUCKY revolves entirely around Jimmy getting his family involved in turning their luck around and beating the family curse. Jimmy was a high school football star whose pro ball aspirations didn’t quite work out as he hoped. Now he has a limp and is stereotypically discounted as a mindless Neanderthal by pretty much everyone in his life. He can’t hold down a job and his ex-wife, Bobbie Jo (Katie Holmes), seems to always have it out for him. All Jimmy really wants is to be able to spend time with his daughter (played endearingly by Farrah Mackenzie). If only he could make Bobbie Jo see that he might be a responsible, supportive father.
It’s not just Jimmy who is down-on-his-luck – the rest of the Logans are having a tough time too. Jimmy’s brother, Clyde (Adam Driver), lost a hand in military combat before starting work as a bartender in a tiny, middle-of-nowhere place and their younger sister, Mellie (Riley Keough), has a history of dating problematic fellas. She is unquestionably the happiest of the Logan family, though, spending most of her days at a salon and occasionally hanging out with her niece. The movie is packed with other bit characters featuring celebrity cameos (e.g., Katherine Waterson, Seth MacFarlane, and Hilary Swank), but the Logans are really the people who drive the action of the picture. The only other major cast member of note is Daniel Craig, who plays the questionably clever “Joe Bang.” Joe is a man with an unlikely name and an unbelievable knowledge that the Logans exploit to their advantage. In my opinion, Tatum and Craig give the standout performances of the show – Tatum with his acute, moody physical choices paired with his sincere vocal delivery & Craig with his flamboyant confidence.
LOGAN LUCKY’s major conflict involves Jimmy’s stroke of luck in doing a short job for a construction company that worked on a NASCAR track. Jimmy discovered that money collected from the races is filtered underground and into a special vault. With the right help, maybe he can rob an upcoming race. Maybe he and Clyde and Mellie can steal enough money to get by a little easier in life. Jimmy has the know-how around the construction site at the track, Clyde is (ironically) a right-hand man who can efficiently accomplish most tasks, and Mellie is an excellent get-away driver… but, to succeed, they need a demolitionist for the vault. And for scientific expertise, the Logans bust incarcerated Joe Bang out of prison for a day. The rest is for you to discover in the movie.
Soderbergh’s newest picture is not an especially unique “heist” movie, except for the fact that it is exceptionally produced. The narrative is about everyman underdogs who want to find a way to move up in a world that cheated them out fame and fortune. There are merely two things that contrast with other pictures in this genre: 1) the unreliable characters and 2) the curse. The production team used pretty standard tactics to get the audience to sympathize with their characters, but utilized special tactics to keep the audience on their feet and guessing. For instance, Jimmy Logan is nice and all… but is he clever enough to pull off a massive underground heist? In the same vein, Joe Bang is mighty confident… but does he actually know about explosives, or does he just like setting stuff on fire? The characters are untrustworthy. They are motivated by different things. We don’t know whether they are actually capable of doing what they set out to do. And that’s what makes them interesting. Sympathy for characters + uncertainty in plot = tension. This is how Soderbergh manipulates the fairly typical aspects of the genre he selected in order to achieve a feeling of freshness.
But, even if we do find confidence – or at least hope – in the characters, there’s always that curse… What if the Logans really are unlucky? What if they are capable of reaching their dreams, but the universe just has it out for them anyway? The underlying suspicion that sometimes things just don’t go our way is a thematic area that audiences of all backgrounds can get behind. Sometimes things go bad and there isn’t really an explanation. But, sometimes things go right too. Given that chance is an unpredictable and unavoidable part of our lives, should we even try to make plans, or are we better off simply going with whatever random situations life throws at us? All of the characters take a swing at chance in LOGAN LUCKY and we can’t help but want them to succeed.
Though it sometimes follows genre tropes to a fault, the characters in LOGAN LUCKY, guided by Soderbergh’s expert directorial hand, make the movie a fun and unexpectedly thoughtful summer flick.