Steven Soderbergh (2017)
So just how far is it from Boone County, West Virginia, to the Charlotte Motor Speedway in Concord, South Carolina? This may not be a question that keeps you up at night, but it was one that I found myself unable to ignore while viewing the new Steven Soderbergh film, Logan Lucky. The answer, now that I’m sure you’re dying to know, is 280 miles, or about four and a half hours by the shortest route. This according to Mapquest on what one character in the movie calls “the Googles.”
The reason this question bothered me was that the film’s protagonist Jimmy Logan (Channing Tatum) apparently lives in Boone county, but works with a construction crew on an excavation project under the speedway, at least until he gets let go by the company because he has a limp—a “pre-existing condition” the company wants no part of for insurance purposes. But despite the eight-hour workday and the nine-hour there-and-back drive that he would have to have accomplished, Jimmy still seems to have time to hang out with his daughter Sadie (Farrah Mackenzie) while he’s working on his car, or be chided by his ex-wife Bobbie Jo (Katie Holmes) for missing his daughter’s rehearsals (was she rehearsing between 9:30 p.m. and 4:30 a.m., which would be the only times he could possibly have been home?). Still, Jimmy freaks out when Bobby Jo tells him she wants to move across the state line with her new husband, even though that would be far closer than driving to his job.
But maybe that kind of logic isn’t to be expected from Hollywood, where the assumption must be that “flyover states” are all the same anyway.
But the gaffe does seem to be symptomatic of a certain condescension apparent in the film, in which the “rednecks” played with exaggerated gusto by Tatum, Adam Driver as Jimmy’s one-armed bartender brother Clyde, and Riley Keough as their hairdresser sister Mellie, comprise a family that prompts one character to opine “You Logans must be as simpleminded as people say.” Even closer to the shallow end of the gene pool are the brothers Fish and Sam (Jack Quaid and Brian Gleeson), enlisted by the Logans to help with a robbery they are planning, who need to find a way to harmonize their taking part in this heist with their new born-again status—an ethical scruple that takes them about fifteen seconds to hurdle.
The one actor who does not really appear to be slumming is the one you’d think would be most likely to: Daniel Craig as the incarcerated safecracker Joe Bang is so completely divergent from his suave, sophisticated James Bond persona that he might be expected to be chewing the scenery, but no, Craig is the biggest delight of the movie, and his seems the most sincere performance.
Still, if you begin to think that this is just a broad comic spoof of southern country folk and their hick ways—which you may be forgiven for thinking based on a number of details in the film—you may find it hard to account for a number of other aspects of the picture. Most obviously, there is a particularly annoying British race car driver played by Seth MacFarlane with an outrageous British accent who ridicules Jimmy’s gimpy leg as well as Clyde’s arm, lost in the Iraq war. So Soderbergh creates a completely unsympathetic character who is shown ridiculing people whom Soderbergh appears to have been deliberately ridiculing. Is this some kind of self-flagellation on the part of Soderbergh, or is it a warning to the audience that these characters are intended to be more sympathetic? Or both?
Clyde’s combat loss of his arm and Jimmy’s health insurance and employment difficulties are serious issues under the farcical facade of the film. Add to that an apparently rather gratuitous appearance by Katherine Waterson as Jimmy’s old high school acquaintance Sylvia, a health-care professional in a traveling medical van who seems to serve no other purpose but to underscore the area’s inadequate access to healthcare, and it looks as if Soderbergh is trying to make a social statement, however disguised, with this movie. But the message is mixed—the tone is too difficult to pin down to make it clear just what attitude is being taken. Perhaps the epitome of this ambiguous tone is the scene in which Jimmy’s daughter Sadie, hair and makeup done up to make the twelve-year old Mackenzie look like a relatively inexpensive lady of the evening, performs in the highly questionable venue of a child glitz beauty contest—one of those events so justly criticized for encouraging girls to adopt and perpetuate a harmfully sexualized image of femininity that may result in eating disorders and issues of self-esteem (in addition to costing their parents thousands and in some cases even tens of thousands of dollars). And yet this scene, so deserving of satire or parody, is presented in a disturbingly straight way.
To be sure, basically, this is really just another heist movie. If Ocean’s Eleven and O Brother, Where Art Thou had a baby, this film would be that child. For the first third of the film, it does seem as if Soderbergh is channeling the Coen Brothers, with quirky regional characters and speech patterns, with the exception that with the Coen brothers, one feels there is some genuine affection for the quirky characters that I don’t pick up on here. Then the film turns into a Soderbergh heist movie, with the Clooney of Ocean replaced by the one from O Brother.
The plot of the film is entertaining. Jimmy—hoping to reverse the bad luck that the Logan family is notorious for—conceives of a plan to steal a great deal of cash from the Charlotte Motor Speedway, having seen precisely how all vendors on the site use pneumatic tubes under the speedway to send cash into an underground safe. His former job excavating under the place has allowed him to conceive of how this could be done. The brothers do need the help of safecracker Joe Bang, however, but there is a small problem: Joe is in jail. But he agrees to help the Logans with their plan if his brothers, the Neanderthals Fish and Sam, ae included in the heist. And, of course, Joe has to be busted out of jail—but only for the day and only if nobody knows about it, since he’s going to get out in five more months anyway. So part of the plan to rob the speedway must incorporate a sub-plan to get Joe temporarily out of stir.
To reveal much more of the plot itself would be to impose upon you numerous spoilers which I ought not to do. Suffice it to say that you won’t be disappointed in the high-jinks and hilarity that ensue. Still, I must admit that there were aspects of the plan, and of the late twist, that I didn’t really follow. I’m not sure anybody did.
An FBI investigation led by no-nonsense agent Hilary Swank in foisted onto the end of the film for little apparent reason other than to set the stage for a possible sequel. This actually adds little to the present film. But then, it’s hard to explain the Seth MacFarlane role or the Katherine Waterson either for that matter in terms of straightforward plot. But that too is something, perhaps, that Soderbergh—or his credited screenwriter Rebecca Blunt—may have learned from the Coen brothers. It should be noted, though, that no one has ever heard of Rebecca Blunt before, and she has no other screen credits, so it seems fairly likely that Blunt is a Soderbergh pseudonym.
This is an entertaining film that most people will probably enjoy. In the end, though, it doesn’t bear up very well under scrutiny the next day. But if you’re not interested in scrutinizing your entertainment, by all means give it a shot. I’m giving it two Jacqueline Susanns and half a Tennyson.
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