Monday, September 11, 2017

It Came From The Cineplex: Logan Lucky

Welp, Summer Movie Dumpster Fire 2017 has officially sputtered to a limp and disappointing close. In the past few weeks it's become increasingly difficult to find anything worth paying to see at the cineplex. Fortunately there are a one or two bright spots if you know where to look, such as this film.

Logan Lucky was written by Rebecca Blunt and directed by Steven Soderbergh.

Blunt has exactly one theatrical writing credit to her name— this one.

Soderbergh is a prolific writer, producer and director. He previously directed many critically acclaimed films such as Sex, Lies And Videotape, The Limey, Erin Brockovich, Traffic, Ocean's Eleven, Solaris, Ocean's Twelve, The Good German, Ocean's Thirteen, The Informant!, Contagion and Magic Mike, among many others.

Soderbergh claimed he'd retired from filmmaking after directing the 2013 TV movie Behind The Candelabra. According to him, he was given the Logan Lucky script by a friend and asked to recommend a director. Fortunately for us, Soderbergh read the script and liked it so much he decided to come out of retirement and direct it himself.

Overall I enjoyed Logan Lucky, but I'm not as in love with it as most critics seem to be. I'm kind of wondering if part of the reason it's receiving so much praise is that the utter dreck filling the rest of the cineplex makes the film look epic by comparison?

The movie's been described as a "Red Neck Ocean's 11," which seems pretty apt. All of Soderbergh's familiar Ocean's elements are here— the gang full of quirky personalities, the meticulously planned heist and even the twist at the end. In fact in the movie, a news anchor even describes the robbery as "Ocean's Seven-Eleven."

Despite this similarity to the Ocean's trilogy, Logan Lucky somehow feels fresh, and has its own distinct personality. 

It's a much smarter and better executed version of last year's Masterminds (which I inexplicably liked and graded much, MUCH too high).

Although Rebecca Blunt is credited as the sole writer of the film, Hollywood insiders claim there's no such person. Rumor has it the movie was actually written by Jules Asner, the wife of Steven Soderbergh. This would makes sense, as Asner hails from West Virginia, where the film takes place.

So far the film is a financial flop, grossing just $31 million worldwide against its slim $29 million budget. Ouch! And yes, it's still a flop, since due to marketing costs, movies generally have to gross twice their production budget before they turn a profit. Logan Lucky probably didn't spend a fortune on promotion, but it's still unlikely to ever break even. That's too bad, as it's one of the very few decent movies out there this month. Maybe it'll do better on home video.

The Plot:
Jimmy Logan is a construction worker in rural West Virginia, whose promising high school football career was cut short by an injury that left him with a permanent limp. His wife Bobbie Jo (played by Katie Holmes) left him for a wealthy used car salesman named Moody (played by David Denman). Jimmy and Bobbie Jo have a daughter Sadie, who's heavily into the creepy child beauty pageant scene.

As the film opens, Jimmy works on his truck while Sadie looks on. He tells his favorite song is John Denver's Take Me Home, Country Roads, and suggests she sing it in her upcoming Junior Miss beauty pageant. Unfortunately she insists on singing Umbrella by Rihanna instead.

Jimmy heads to his construction job in the tunnels beneath the Charlotte Motor Speedway, where he's suddenly fired for not disclosing his limp. Shortly afterward, Bobbie Jo tells him she and her new family are moving to Lynchburg, which will make it harder for him to visit Sadie.

Jimmy drowns his sorrows in a bar run by his brother Clyde (played by Adam Driver), an Iraq War veteran who whose jeep was bombed just as he was heading for his flight home. The incident cost Clyde his most of his left arm, forcing him to wear a crude prosthetic. Clyde says that Jimmy's misfortune is just the latest in the infamous "Logan Family Curse," which has plagued them their entire lives. 

Max Chilblain (played by miscast Seth MacFarlane), a snooty British sports drink entrepreneur, enters the bar and makes fun of Clyde's disability. Jimmy gets into a fight with Max and his goons. In the confusion, Clyde sneaks out and tosses a Molotov cocktail into Max's truck.

The next day, Jimmy, sick of being poor and destitute, pitches an idea to Clyde— robbing the Charlotte Motor Speedway the week after Memorial Day. Due to his recent construction job, Jimmy has intimate knowledge of the system of pneumatic tubes under the track that funnel concession money to an underground vault. Clyde says he's in, and they talk their hairdresser sister Mellie into going along with the plan as well.

Jimmy and Clyde then visit the local prison to meet with Joe Bang (played by a bleached-blonde Daniel Craig), an old acquaintance who's a convicted demolitions expert with just five months to go on his sentence. They explain their plan to Joe, who points out one tiny flaw— HE'S CURRENTLY IN PRISON. The brothers assure Joe they can sneak him out and back in before the authorities know he's gone. Amazingly, Joe agrees to the plan, but insists they bring his younger brothers Fish and Sam in on the deal.

Clyde deliberately commits a petty crime in order to be sent to Joe's prison for ninety days. Jimmy buys supplies for the heist, and runs into Sylvia Harrison (played by Katherine Waterston), a former classmate who's now a nurse with a mobile clinic. Sylvia gives Jimmy a booster shot, and mentions her clinic is low on funds. Jimmy asks Sylvia if they ever kissed in high school, which upsets her. Jimmy then runs into his former boss, who says the construction job is ahead of schedule and will be finished by Memorial Day, meaning the heist will have to be moved up a week.

In the prison, Clyde and Joe talk the other prisoners into staging a fake riot so they can slip out unnoticed. They sneak out under a delivery truck and are met by Mellie, who takes them to the Speedway. Meanwhile the befuddled Warden Burns (played by Dwight Yoakam!) tries to diffuse the imaginary riot.

At the Speedway, Fish and Sam cut the power so the concession stands can only accept cash. Joe mixes up a homemade bomb to blast into the vault. He, Jimmy and Clyde use a vacuum to suck up the money and funnel it into plastic bags. Jimmy accidentally reverses the vacuum, causing it to suck Clyde's prosthetic arm into the tubes. Clyde freaks out, convinced the authorities will find his arm and convict him (Logan Family Curse!). Jimmy assures him he'll find the arm, and tells him and Joe to hurry back to the prison before they're missed.

On their way out, Clyde and Joe encounter Max Chilblain. He recognizes Clyde and attacks him
 (Logan Family Curse!). Clyde breaks Max's nose, and he and Joe run off. The two manage to slip back into prison unnoticed. Meanwhile Fish and Sam, dressed as janitors, drive out with the trash bags full of money.

Mellie makes it to the beauty pageant just in time to do Sadie's hair. Sadie goes onstage, ready to perform her Umbrella song as planned. Suddenly Jimmy enters the auditorium, just in time to see his daughter perform. Sadie spots him in the audience and decides to sing Take Me Home, Country Roads after all. The audience is so moved they begin singing along, and Sadie wins first place.

Later that day a news report states that all the Speedway's stolen money was recovered inside a truck parked at a convenience store. Apparently Jimmy left the truck in the lot and called in an anonymous tip to the police. The rest of the gang is livid with Jimmy for betraying them after all the trouble they went through
. Mellie refuses to speak to him, while Joe Bang vows to kill him once he's released from prison.

FBI Agent Sarah Grayson (played by Hilary Swank) arrives to investigate the robbery. She questions several people, including Warden Burns and Max Chilblain. Burns is no help, but Chilblain claims he saw Clyde at the Speedway while he was supposed to be in prison. Grayson questions the Speedway officials, but since almost of the money was returned, they're satisfied with the outcome. With no concrete evidence, Grayson is forced to close the case.

Clyde and Joe are released from prison. Joe plans to murder Jimmy, but when he returns to his old house he finds a large sum of the money buried in his backyard. We then see that this was all part of Jimmy's Master Plan. During the heist, he secretly stashed several bags of money in a secure location, turning in the rest of it to throw off any suspicion or investigations. He distributes the money among the gang, and even gives a bit to Sylvia for her clinic.

Later we see Jimmy working at Lowes. He goes to Clyde's bar with Sylvia, where we see the rest of the gang (including Joe) celebrating. Clyde, who now has a new high-tech bionic arm that he bought with his share of the loot, spots a woman at the bar. He buys her a drink and asks her where she's from. We then see the woman is Agent Grayson, who's continuing the investigation on her own (Logan Family Curse!).

• Despite the fact that I enjoyed Logan Lucky, I really don't have a lot to say about it, so this'll be quick.

• The highlight of the film is definitely its top notch cast (with the exception of the very out of place Seth MacFarlane and his Dick Van Dyke level British accent). 

Channing Tatum even turned in a decent performance. I used to think he was little more than a sack of potatoes that could talk, but he's won me over in recent years, and my opinion of him has risen quite a bit.

Daniel Craig steals the show as Joe Bang, an insane, bleached-blonde convict. He honestly surprised me here with his versatility, as the role allows him to uncharacteristically cut loose in a way James Bond never could. Who knew Craig could be legitimately funny?

• The idea of beefcake Channing Tatum and the owlish Adam Driver appearing onscreen as brothers strains suspension of disbelief to its breaking point. Maybe they had different moms or something?

• Speaking of Adam Driver, he plays a wounded Iraqi War veteran here. In reality, Driver was a Marine before he became an actor. He was scheduled to be deployed to Iraq, but broke his sternum and was medically discharged.

• I'm betting a huge part of the film's $29 million budget went toward digitally erasing Adam Driver's left forearm to simulate his war injury. Kudos to the effects team, as it honestly looks like Driver's really missing an arm!

• Jimmy and Clyde's sister Mellie is played by actress Riley Keough, who's the daughter of Lisa Marie Presley, and granddaughter of Elvis (!).

• In the film, Jimmy lives in West Virginia and had a promising football career before an injury sidelined him. Supposedly the character was based on actor Channing Tatum, who grew up poor in Alabama, Mississippi and Florida. Tatum had a college football scholarship until an accident damaged his knee, and he turned to stripping and modeling to make ends meet

• My favorite scene in the film was the prison riot, in which an inmate gives a list of demands to Warden Burns. All they want is for the prison library to stock the final two books of George R.R. Martin's Game Of Thrones series.

Burns then has to patiently explain to the prisoners that Martin was still working on The Winds Of Winter (Book 6)and hasn't even started on A Dream Of Spring (Book 7). The prisoners refuse to believe him, since the TV show is detailing events that happen after Book 5. The Warden and the prisoners then get in a discussion about TV schedules and the details of book-to-film adaptations.

It's a funny scene because it's all too true, and the inmates' frustration with Martin's writing speed very much echoes my own.
• According to Clyde, the Logan Family Curse strikes whenever things seem to be going well for the clan. Jimmy blew out his knee after becoming a high school football star. Clyde lost his arm in Iraq on the way to the airport to catch his flight home. 

At the end of the film, it's hinted that the curse may be about to strike again. The gang got away with the robbery and are all celebrating their good fortune in Clyde's bar. The final shot of the movie shows Clyde innocently chatting up an undercover Agent Grayson, implying she'll eventually dig up the evidence she needs to convict the gang, and proving the Curse true once again.

Logan Lucky is one of the few worthwhile films currently playing this month. It's a good, but not great variation on the Ocean's 11 plot, filled with memorable performances and a surprising twist. I give it a solid B.

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