Sunday, September 17, 2017

Logan Lucky

Alternate Title:  Ocean's 5 1/2
One sentence synopsis:  Two brothers in West Virginia assemble a team to rob a NASCAR speedway during one of the biggest races of the year.

Things Havoc liked:   I can take or leave Steven Soderbergh. The man makes good movies, at least on occasion, from Ocean's 11 to Magic Mike to Erin Brokovich, but he also makes a whole lot of meandering crap such as Bubble, Che, or Eros (don't ask), and seems to regard filmmaking as an occasion to shower everyone with his insightful views on the world, such as his many public resignations from directing (Logan Lucky being the fifth consecutive "last film" of his, with a sixth in the works for next year), his predilection for pseudonyms (such that nobody's actually sure who the screenwriter of this film is), and his fervent support of internet censorship as a means to save the soul of art (???). That said, when it comes to procedural heist-comedies, at least nowadays, Soderbergh is pretty much the man you look to to get things done. So leaving aside Soderbergh's hangups for the moment, I decided that this one, a redneck-themed remake of Ocean's 11, sounded promising, particularly when it came to the cast.

And what a cast it is. Channing Tatum, a long-time Soderbergh regular, and Adam Driver (of Star Wars), play the Logan brothers, a pair of blue-collar West Virginians, who like all West Virginians in all movies, are fated to suffer under the cruel arm of "the man" while evidencing down-home folksy character and virtue in contrast to the slick hucksterism of the city folk that surround them. Tatum, sadly, gets stuck with not much more than the above character description, but Driver gets a bit more, as a none-too-bright Iraq war vet with a prosthetic arm who gets dragged into his brother's hair-brained scheme for getting rich by means of robbing the Charlotte Motor Speedway on the day of an enormous NASCAR race. Driver's an actor I've become a big fan of in the last couple of years, as every performance he gives is so strikingly different from the previous. This time he plays what amounts to the role of a Steven Soderbergh heist character with stonefaced aplomb, and it's perfect.

Surrounding Tatum and Driver are other actors having a grand old time. Brian Gleeson (son of Brendan) and Jack Quaid (son of Dennis) play the Bang Brothers, two redneck idiots with pretensions of religious scruple who are among the funnier things in the film, and whose older brother is played by Daniel Freaking Craig, James Bond himself, as a safecracker and felon brought along to bring his particular knowledge of homemade explosives into the mix. Craig is goddamned amazing in this movie, a screamingly-funny old lecher of a bomb expert who steals every scene he's in and runs away with them. His role is effectively that of Don Cheedle in the Ocean's movies, but an Appalachia layered over. If you've ever wanted to watch James Bond hit on everything in sight... well you'd watch a James Bond film most likely, but if you wanted to watch him do so in a comedy, this is probably your best bet. If nothing else, Daniel Craig wins his way onto the ever-elongating list of British actors whose American accents are undetectably flawless. It must be all the warm beer...

Things Havoc disliked: So, the whole point of a heist film is to watch the heroes work. To see them undertake a seemingly-impossible task and accomplish it through clever planning, outsmarting their rivals, dumb luck, or whathaveyou. That's the whole reason that heist movies make such great comedies, the entire purpose of the film is to showcase how much smarter one group of characters is than another, and humiliation is the foundation of most comedy. You'd think that Soderbergh, of all directors, would know all this, having now made three Ocean's films (with a fourth in the works), to say nothing of things like Traffic or The Good German, which while not comedies, had labyrinthine plots full of people outwitting one another. And yet, judging from the evidence, either Soderbergh has entirely lost the plot or I have, because I have no goddamn idea what happens in this movie.

Heist plots are complex. They have to be, in order to hold the audience's attention, but the point of the entire exercise is to marvel at how clever the characters (and by extension, the filmmakers) are once we see just how elaborate the plan was, that's the been the genre's mainstay since The Sting for God's sake. Yet the whole last half of Logan Lucky makes no damned sense, not in the more common manner of the characters acting out of character, but in the sense that I literally had, and still have, no idea whatsoever of what was intended to be happening. Once the plot is underway we rapidly lose track of what's going on, to the point where it's not made clear at all if the heist is a success, a failure, or some mixture of the two. To be fair, a certain amount of confusion on those points is only natural to the genre, as a means to build tension if nothing else, but it's customary to at least let the audience in on what the hell the plan actually was before the movie ends. I've seen a lot of movies in the last six and a half years, many with plots far more labyrinthine than anything this movie puts together, but I still wasn't sure of what the hell had happened in this thing until I read the Wikipedia summary in preparation for this review. And even then, I wondered how the article's author had managed to puzzle it out. It's not a matter of artifice or winking or the filmmaker trying to show off how much smarter he is than the audience (which would be bad enough). Necessary information to the interpretation of the events on screen is simply not provided.

And it would be bad enough were the plot simply impenetrable, but there's a lot of strangeness surrounding this film, a lot of fat that went untrimmed, so to speak. Fairly major actors, such as Katie Holmes and Hillary Swank, the former of whom plays Channing Tatum's ex-wife, the latter an FBI agent, are barely in the film, to the point where one wonders if there wasn't a massive editing fiasco somewhere in the movie's production. Holmes is there more or less just to make Tatum look long-suffering and saintly, while Swank only enters the film at the very end, with a role that feels rather like its missing two thirds of its character arc (the awful Louis Gossett Jr. impression she adopts throughout does her no favors either). Seth McFarlaine, of all people, also makes an appearance as a stuck-up British racer straight out of a Ricky Bobby movie, for no reason other than to be annoying and get punched once or twice. Meanwhile the film takes an inordinate amount of time dealing with Tatum's family drama, with his ex-wife (Holmes), his adorable daughter , his ex-wife's husband who is of course an abrupt douchebag with more money than him, etc, etc. Admittedly, this isn't the first heist movie to drum up stock family drama to give the hero a reason to steal things, Ant-Man did much the same, but the difference is that Ant-Man established the family and then left them out of the picture for a while so that the heist could take place. This movie, on the other hand, is the first film I can remember that combines waacky heist hijinx with the tired old question of whether Dad will be able to make his daughter's recital/talent show contest, as though the prospect of goofballs robbing NASCAR wasn't a big enough sell, and what we're really here for is the inevitable moment where the father races in at the last minute and shares and understanding nod with his long-suffering child. Awwww.

Final thoughts:   Logan Lucky is a frustrating movie, as it's nowhere near badly-made enough to actually be bad, but all that means is that we feel resentful that the actually good movie we can see signs of doesn't show up. Craig and Driver are excellent in the thing, don't get me wrong, and some of the fifty-three tangents that the film flies off on are actually pretty funny (the demands that the prisoners make during the prison riot are inspired). But the whole thing plays like a mass of dead-ends, truncated plot elements, and tired cliches, layered over with a thick helping of utter bewilderment as to what is actually going on. I know the film has been praised immodestly by critics and audiences alike, but I'm of no use to anyone if I fail to give my honest opinion. And my honest opinion is that this movie, like so much of Soderbergh work, enthusiastically fails to work.

Still, if you're a hardcore Daniel Craig fan, and frankly who isn't, it's not the worst thing you'll have been forced to put up with.

Final Score:  4.5/10

Next Time:  Hell or High Water 2:  Hotter Hell.  Higher Water.

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