When the New York Times gushes that a movie is "ridiculously entertaining" the expectations for that movie go through the roof. Few if any films can live up to that kind of over-the-top hype.
And that leaves me in a quandary. Because Logan Lucky is a terrifically fun movie. Is it "ridiculously entertaining?" I don't know about that, but it's pretty freakin' good!
Logan Lucky is deceptive and far more low-key than I expected. It is a heist movie among hillbillies that takes place at a NASCAR event. And yet it isn't a shoot-em-up (I don't think a gun appears in the entire movie) and, while its characters fetishize muscle cars, it isn't a movie chock full of slow motion car crashes.
In certain ways, it is movie full of cartoon-like characters who speak with thick (often comically thick) hillbilly accents and who sport outlandish hair-dos. When we first meet them, they appear to be stereotypes of an American culture that we city-folk like to deride.
This grab-bag of characters includes the Logans -- Jimmy (Channing Tatum), a one-time High School football star who blew out his knee and now can't stay employed, his preposterously taciturn bartender brother Clyde (Adam Driver) with a prosthetic arm to replace the one he lost serving in Iraq, and their hair-dresser sister Mellie (Riley Keogh) who has an addiction for driving fast cars fast. They are joined by the Bang Brothers, incarcerated safe cracker Joe Bang (Daniel Craig), Sam Bang (Brian Gleeson) and Fish Bang (Jack Quaid).
If the film had been helmed by another director, these characters (and many of the others) could be insufferable and two-dimensional. But fortunately, the film is the work of Stephen Soderbergh who refuses to judge his characters by slogans or stereotypes. Soderbergh has the greatest gift a filmmaker can have, the gift of generosity and genuine affection toward even his most outlandish characters. He does not look down on them for his comedy, he relishes spending time with them. And so do we. Ultimately, these strange country folk are not so different from strange city folk like us. And while they may not dress smart or talk smart, they are smart.
Because it's a Soderbergh directed heist movie, Logan Lucky has been compared to the Ocean series. And, like the Ocean series, it is less about the heist and more about the buddies who pull off the heist. But where the Ocean movies relishes in the cool of its A list stars, Logan Lucky relishes in its utter lack of cool. Whereas the Ocean movies give you the sense that everything is under control, in Logan Lucky nothing is in control, including the NASCAR race that makes up its center. Like the wacky notion of thirty speeding cars roaring and careening bumper to bumper along a narrow track for six hundred miles while a crowd of 100,000 looks on, so this heist turns out to be the wackiest crime ever conceived.
At the center of the movie, LeAnn Rimes sings -- acapella -- a latter verse of "America The Beautiful."
O beautiful for patriot dream
That sees beyond the years
Thine alabaster cities gleam
Undimmed by human tears!
God shed his grace on thee
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!
And in her impossibly soaring rendition of that soaring song lies the crux of Logan Lucky -- the promise and dream of an America as out of reach to ordinary Americans as LeAnn Rimes is to those 100,000 NASCAR spectators.
That is unless you're a character in a wacky Stephen Soderbergh movie pulling off the Hillbilly Heist of the century.