8/10 Director Steven Soderbergh returns from his brief retirement entirely on his terms, making a film he had complete control over, for better or worse. Logan Lucky drags at times, but is far more often a side-splitting redneck romp that sees Daniel Craig having fun in a role for the first time in years.
Jimmy Logan (Channing Tatum, who also produces) works construction on a repair site on the Charlotte Motor Speedway. After he’s let go for liability reasons involving insurance, he recruits his one-armed brother, Clyde (Adam Driver), in a plan to rob the place. The plan hinges on demolition expert Joe Bang (Craig), who is incarcerated.
Logan Lucky is hilarious. It’s a fun heist movie filled with distinctive characters in well-composed shots not concerned with anything at all — no focus groups, no target audience, no pacing choices, just complete artistic authenticity.
That’s exactly what this movie was about behind the scenes, as well. Soderbergh retired from filmmaking after 2013’s Side Effects because he didn’t want to deal with the Hollywood mass marketing system interfering with his movies anymore. He came back for Logan Lucky because he loved Rebecca Blunt’s script, despite the fact that she might not actually exist.
But Soderbergh still had to solve the studio problem, and the solution could flip the entire moviemaking paradigm on its head. Soderbergh assembled a stellar cast that would work for scale, raised the film’s $29 million budget by selling the international distribution rights, raised the advertising budget by selling the online distribution rights to Amazon for $20 million and then worked out a deal with Bleeker Street to do domestic distribution for scale and minimal overhead. The New York Times goes into more detail, but basically, he mortgaged a house that didn’t exist yet in order to pay for its construction.
The hope is that a successful run for Logan Lucky will bring back the kind of mid-budget movie that Hollywood has trended away from, instead focusing all resources on tentpoles and studio-backed Oscar contenders and leaving genuinely art-driven projects to scrounge for cash.
It’s tough to say whether or not Soderbergh’s creative freedom affected Logan Lucky’s quality — it’s a joyously distinctive film, but he’s made plenty of distinctive films under the modern Hollywood system.
The problems Soderbergh movies tend to run into are him giving too much control of the scene to actors who don’t necessarily deserve it — Channing Tatum — and plots that get into the weeds, and Logan Lucky runs headlong into both of those issues. Tatum brings his careless stutter back from Magic Mike, another Soderbergh project, and they go with those takes instead of ones where he can remember his lines. The movie is 119 minutes, but could have been about 30 shorter — Max Chilblain’s (Seth MacFarlane) race team is a complete red herring, as is the 20 minute detour of an investigation by special agent Sarah Grayson (Hillary Swank). There’s a whole plot thread where Jimmy Logan hides the money from everyone, including his partners, and it’s just not necessary. The time would be better spent with more southern hijinks.
With everything bought and paid for, Logan Lucky would have been just fine to open at a modest $15 million, but it barely made half that last week, opening to a mere $8.1 million while The Hitman’s Bodyguard overperformed at $21.6 million. That’s terrible news for a movie trying to break a distribution system that firmly resists change.
Leopold Knopp is a UNT graduate and a syndicated columnist with the Lewisville Texan Journal. Like Reel Entropy on Facebook, follow it on Twitter @reelentropy, and shoot questions and suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org.