REVIEW: May fortune find 'Logan Lucky', because it's deserved

 Channing Tatum, Riley Keough, and Adam Driver in  Logan Lucky , directed by Steven Soderbergh.

Channing Tatum, Riley Keough, and Adam Driver in Logan Lucky, directed by Steven Soderbergh.

Steven Soderbergh made a name for himself with clever storytelling and editing with both Ocean’s Eleven and Traffic, for which he won an Oscar for Best Director. He had a gift for snappy dialogue and even snappier editing, which are requisite characteristics for a film with an ensemble cast to be successful. Combined with the end of his self-imposed exile, there was considerable intrigue ahead of Logan Lucky’s release.

It’s a straight-forward and enjoyable film: Jimmy Logan (Channing Tatum), a former football star who is now poor, divorced and working blue-collar jobs, is having the worst day of his life. He is fired from his construction job due to liability issues after failing to disclose his injured knee when he was hired, and learns that his ex-wife and daughter are moving out of state with her wealthy new husband. Jimmy visits his brother, Clyde (Adam Driver), an Iraq War veteran with one hand who runs the local bar, and together they hatch a plan to rob the cash deposits from the vault of the Coca-Cola 600 NASCAR event. They recruit their sister Mellie (Riley Keough), eccentric demolitions expert Joe Bang (Daniel Craig), and Bang’s two dimwitted brothers (Brian Gleeson, Jack Quaid) to complete the job, which runs into all sorts of comical complications.

It’s not without its faults, however. The story takes longer than necessary to get the wheels moving, and once the wheels start moving, it moves too fast for the story to make sense. While Ocean’s Eleven and Traffic had pieces that fit neatly together in its climax and conclusion, there are certain strings of Logan Lucky’s plot that remain hanging. It’s not really a satire, either, but it certainly smells Coen-esque, and like the Coen brothers, Soderbergh sticks to a familiar cast.

I’ve always thought Tatum was a very underrated actor (better than Steve Carrell in Foxcatcher), and he continues to turn in solid performances and fits the bill as the fallen all-American hero. Craig puts in a fine performance that makes you forget about his familiar macho brooding, and Keough, who’s been a rising star since Mad Max: Fury Road and has become Soderbergh’s go-to actress after the critically successful The Girlfriend Experience, stands out as well. The odd men out are Sebastian Stan and a barely recognizable Seth MacFarlane – whose character, not performance – sticks out like a sore thumb, which is also perhaps due the unnecessary inclusion of their subplot.

 Daniel Craig as Joe Bang and Dwight Yoakam as Warden Burns.

Daniel Craig as Joe Bang and Dwight Yoakam as Warden Burns.

The charm of Logan Lucky is that there are no heroes and no superpowers here – it’s about a bunch of scrappy, down-on-their-luck folk who cook up a ridiculous plot to make them all rich and happy. It’s not an original heist film by any means. In the simplest terms it really is a redneck version of Ocean’s Eleven. The only regret is that Logan Lucky isn’t fanciful enough to be really popular, and that it hasn’t done very good business. On a budget of $29 million, plus an estimated $20 million on marketing, it’s grossed just $16 million worldwide. But Logan Lucky is more than just its critical or financial success, because it makes a statement about Hollywood’s current state of affairs.

When Soderbergh left the scene, he was critical of how much creative control has been taken away from directors. Translation: Hollywood had become infatuated with big-budget superhero blockbusters and the cinematic universes that they spawned. They were big, fat cash cows, and the big wigs had deduced there were specific reasons for their success. “Creative differences” became a ubiquitous euphemism for clashes between directors and studios. Edgar Wright spent years on Ant-Man before leaving. Phil Lord and Christopher Miller were replaced in the Han Solo spinoff. Patty Jenkins was approached for Thor: The Dark World before Wonder Woman. Ava DuVernay was in the conversation for Black Panther. (Anyone else notice this is basically all Marvel and Disney?)

But, over the past year, there’s been some pushback from audiences who are tired of the good vs. evil conflicts which seemed to require as much CGI as possible to tell a simple story. The 2017 summer season has been marked by some big disappointments: Pirates of the Caribbean, The Mummy, Transformers, Alien, The Dark Tower, Valerian and King Arthur. Just 11 summer films this year have grossed over $100 million worldwide, the lowest total since 2006.

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The pushback is real – after all, what speaks more in Hollywood than dollars? Wonder Woman, Dunkirk and Baby Driver have dominated much of film discussions this year. None are sequels, and each of them own a niche in pop culture conversation. The most recent Oscar favourites, Arrival ($47 million), La La Land ($30 million), Manchester by the Sea ($9 million) and Moonlight ($4 million) were all made with modest to low budgets.

Movie-making seems to have fallen to the two extremes of the spectrum: either you spend tons of money on a familiar intellectual property with the opportunity to rake in additional merchandising revenue (again, Marvel and Disney are the worst offenders), or you spend as little money as possible to ensure higher profit margins. The space for the mid-budget movie, one which Soderbergh has occupied, has been squeezed. Excluding the Ocean’s franchise and its star-studded cast, the remaining Soderbergh films have generally cost $50 million or less to make. Marketing costs have also ballooned, certainly more so than production costs, which makes studios even more concerned about making (back) the big bucks. It’s clearly bothered Soderbergh so much that he’s opted to distribute Logan Lucky through his own distribution company, Fingerprint Releasing, to maintain more creative and financial control of his films.

 Jack Quaid Brian Gleeson as Joe Bang's brothers.

Jack Quaid Brian Gleeson as Joe Bang's brothers.

It’s important to note that the mid-budget, $50-million movie isn’t dead. The aforementioned Arrival was a hit financially. But Logan Lucky did lose on its gamble, and it will inevitably get tossed on to the heap of mid-budget films that neither make any money nor win any awards. It feels like it’s destined to become a cable movie, albeit an infinitely rewatchable one. Soderbergh’s next two projects, Unsane, a horror movie shot on an iPhone to be distributed through Fingerprint, and Mosaic, a made-for-TV film, perhaps already signal a white flag against an uphill battle against the other eight upcoming Marvel films, six upcoming DC films, and three Star Wars films.

There’s been talk of a sequel for Logan Lucky, but without the box office numbers, which studio is willing to justify it? It’s unfortunate, because there is a market for the Logan Luckys, but with big changes to the movie industry and its business models, maybe the mid-budget movie will simply be replaced by TV after all.

Logan Lucky gets three stars out of four.

 
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