The trailers for Logan Lucky, the new West Virginia heist film starring Channing Tatum and Adam Driver, promoted the fact that it was directed by the guy behind such films as Ocean's Eleven and Magic Mike. That guy, Steven Soderbergh, also won the Academy Award for Best Director for Traffic in 2001, and was nominated, the same year, for directing Erin Brockovich. He's an undisputed heavy-hitter. I'll even stand by 2013's Side Effects, the critical reception of which was a far cry from rapturous.
Logan Lucky wants to be a rip-snorting heist flick. It wants Channing Tatum's Jimmy Logan to be the Danny Ocean of Appalachia. It wants to create the same festive ensemble atmosphere with the same improbable exploits and the same unexpected plot twists. And it just doesn't. Not quite. The film, make no mistake, is a breezy late-summer romp that remains pleasant from start to finish — among other things, Tatum's comedic range continues to impress — but it's got nothing on Ocean's Eleven or Thirteen.
One of the pleasures of the film, but also one of its challenges, is its depiction of West Virginia. While a few of the characters are over-the-top (Daniel Craig as an incarcerated explosives savant named Joe Bang, for example), the setting and story hew closely to reality for a while. Jimmy Logan works a construction job in North Carolina, but his life is back across the state line. There, the young men bob for pig parts at county fairs; the young girls, like Jimmy's daughter Sadie (Farrah Mackenzie), live and die for beauty pageants; and the men wear camouflage as they repair their pickup trucks. Medicine is administered in roving RVs. Everyone drinks Budweiser and worships John Denver.
Jimmy is terrified by the prospect of his ex-wife Bobby Jo (Katie Holmes) moving with her new husband (David Denham) and Sadie to North Carolina, the site of a new Ford dealership. So he enlists his brother Clyde (Adam Driver), a one-armed bartender of few words who's obsessed with family curses, and his sister Mellie (Riley Keough) into robbing the Charlotte race track where he worked to pay for a lawyer.
Typical heist stuff ensues: the recruitment of various specialists; the intricate mapping and planning of the job; the job itself. Clyde gets himself locked up to help spring Joe Bang from prison. One of the least likely plot elements — though we're not scrutinizing — concerns the escape from and return to the correctional facility. It uses a device Soderbergh has used before (this time with a debut screenwriter), but the results here are much less credible.
Overall, Logan Lucky walks a delicate line. This is not Ocean's Eleven, where the players are seasoned experts and master thieves. Nor is this Welcome to Collinwood, where the humor of the heist rests in the criminals' ineptitude. This is somewhere in between, with moments of ineptitude and redneck stereotypes played for laughs in an otherwise massive and massively complicated criminal operation. Something about this collision made the result less satisfying. The pacing, too, leaves something to be desired. When Hillary Swank arrives as an FBI investigator when you'd be forgiven for expecting the credits to roll, you wonder if it's a cameo.