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Logan Lucky

Year: 2017
Production Co: Trans-Radial Pictures
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Writer: Rebecca Blunt
Cast: Channing Tatum, Adam Driver, Daniel Craig, Riley Keough, Katie Holmes, Seth MacFarlane, Brian Gleeson, Jack Quaid, Katherine Waterston, Dwight Yoakam, Sebastian Stan, LeAnn Rimes, Hilary Swank, Macon Blair

To paraphrase many a glowing review of film artistry through the ages, I'd watch Stephen Soderbergh direct the phone book. He has such an assured command over the material he works with (whether or not he writes the script), he couldn't make a bad film if he tried.

That said, the latest abandonment of his long-threatened retirement isn't his best movie. Thankfully, even Soderbergh's worst movie stands head and shoulders above plenty of other filmmakers' best efforts, but it's not his best movie simply by virtue of the fact that it's a bit of a retread of what he's done before.

Just like Harry Potter has the same essential narrative backbone as Star Wars (transposed from a long, long time ago to modern day English wizardry), Logan Lucky is the same zany, crackerjack heist caper as Oceans' Eleven, transposed from well dressed Las Vegas hearthrobs to lovable, bumbling rednecks. But Soderbergh's so good at this kind of thing you'll have as much fun as you did in Ocean's Eleven, only without some of the novelty.

Jimmy (Channing Tatum) and his brother Clyde (Adam Driver) are on hard times. Jimmy loses his job at a local mine, and Clyde, who lost an arm serving in Iraq and now tends the local dive bar, is convinced their string of bad fortune is thanks to a family curse.

But redemption beckons in the form of an annual NASCAR meet at the local speedway, a cash bonanza Jimmy thinks they can tap by breaking into the pneumatic tube system that delivers millions from the hot dog stands and bars around the ground to the underground vault.

But they need collaborators, which come in the shape of yokel brothers Fish (Jack Quadi) and Sam (Brian Gleeson), but more importantly, their explosives expert third brother Joe (Daniel Craig). The problem is, Joe's doing a stretch for a past job, which only makes the plan more complicated.

The sting gradually comes together, involving getting Clyde incarcerated for a short sentence so he can assist Joe from the inside. They have to stage a prison riot and slip out without anyone knowing, pull the job at the speedway and get back inside before the wily warden (Dwight Yoakam) knows they're gone.

And they're all assisted by Jimmy and Clyde's lovable white trash sister Mellie (Riley Keough, who appeared in the TV series of The Girlfriend Experience, the movie version of which Soderbergh directed), who's smarter and has her shit more together than anyone.

Of course, everything that can go wrong seemingly does, partly because of the miscommunication between the loose cannon human elements Jimmy tries desperately to keep under control and partly thanks to the hands of fate.

A lot of subplots and supporting characters also drift in and out, from Jimmy's cute daugher and ex wife (Katie Holmes) to the old flame he might reconnect with (Katherine Waterston), and the blowhard British race driver (Seth MacFarlane) to the FBI agents assigned to the case (Hilary Swank, Macon Blair), but a lot of it feels a little distracting from the main event.

It's no surprise Soderbergh and Tarantino came to prominence around the same time – one of the hallmarks of the early indie movement was a precise, almost fetishistic control over image composition the likes of which Hollywood hadn't used right up until the early 90s. Every aspect of the filmmaking (from the scripting to the blocking) is like a tightly wound watch, ready to spring into action in precisely the right way at precisely the right time in order to sustain tension – or whatever else the point of the story is.

In fact that's so much the case that in another universe where Soderbergh really had hung his megaphone up permanently, you could imagine this was Tarantino's attempt at a zany heist comedy. It's a pleasure to watch even though the plot doesn't really present any surprises and you haven't seen this kind of thing before. Just like Stanley Kubrick with a haunted house in The Shining or Ridley Scott with a monster in space with Alien, you just haven't seen it done with this much clarity of vision.

Tatum doesn't do much more than put on a funny accent but it's interesting to see the way Driver's career is unfolding. Like Robert Pattinson, he's followed his monumental blockbuster franchise up with small, alternative movies out of left field to keep stretching himself. But it's Craig who has the most fun, Joe Bang a universe away from James Bond with his bleached blonde crop top and nervy, steely gaze.

If you're a Soderbergh fan you'll have fun too, and while a new film from him is always a gift, Logan Lucky isn't quite at the top of his canon.

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