There is a moment in the excellent and super sexy Magic Mike XXL that explains Steven Soderbergh’s decision to end his retirement. As Mike grinds away in his workshop, he goes full Flashdance when Ginuwine’s ‘Pony’ comes on the radio and starts doing a different kind of grinding. After falling out of love with stripping in the first film, Mike remembers the joy it brings thousands of women and is pulled back in. Soderbergh, too, remembers the delights his films bring people and if Logan Lucky is anything to go by, he has reignited his verve.
The story spins around Jimmy Logan (a touching Channing Tatum) who is let go from his job fixing a sinkhole at the Charlotte Motor Speedway. Desperate for cash so he can see his daughter (Farrah Mackenzie), who is moving across state lines with her mother (Katie Holmes), Jimmy plans to rob the Speedway with his brother Clyde (a deadpan Adam Driver), his sister Mellie (Riley Keough) and the currently incarnated Joe Bang (Daniel Craig).
Craig takes a step in the right direction in his mission to step out from 007’s shadow. His Bang gets the most laughs for his buck, and his drawling accent nicely homages the ideas we have about redneck America. Craig is the only non-American in the main cast, and it is telling he gets to be the most stereotypical southerner in the “Hillbilly Heist” because behind the honeydew baritone, and the ideas of stupidity attached to it, is Soderbergh’s mission to create empathy and understanding for Red State voters. When Joe pauses the mission to give Jimmy and Clyde a chemistry lesson about why his bomb will be more effective than dynamite, the joke is on us because we have dismissed them as stupid based on the film’s setting.Not all of the jokes pay off as the director intended, and some, particularly the introduction to Joe Bang’s brothers, Fish (Jack Quaid) and Sam (Brian Gleeson), feel slightly exploitative. But, then he pulls off a joke about Game of Thrones that not only flips the bird at the stereotypical felon, it also suggests the reason these characters feel disenfranchised.
The prisoners mistrust the warden, the warden mistrusts the FBI who are embodied by Special Agent Sarah Grayson (Hilary Swank), and the Logans want to pull off the robbery because the system has chewed them up and spat them out. Even NASCAR driver Sebastian Stan, in a thankless cameo, can’t be dealing with his “boss” Seth Macfarlane.
As always, Soderbergh’s direction is skilled. He avoids moving the camera like it was on crack, something that lends itself to this type of story, and his composition is composed and ergonomic. Rebecca Blunt, who may or may not be another Soderbergh pseudonym, uses heist genre cliché to explore why blue-collar Americans feel disenfranchised and vote for someone like Donald Trump. Not all of Logan Lucky works, but Soderbergh finds depth in his redneck characters when others would settle for cliché — it’s a good thing ‘Pony’ came on the radio.