There is absolutely no edge to “Logan Lucky,” and that might just be its strength. It’s a heist movie without a single gun: simple entertainment where the audience is asked to do nothing but engage with likable people doing interesting things. It’s sweet, soulful, energizing and, best of all, original. It’s almost singular in 2017.
It’s also fascinatingly apolitical, especially considering the first 15 minutes are nearly indistinguishable from a Trump campaign ad. A hardworking, handsome white guy (Channing Tatum, “Magic Mike”) loses his job at a coal mine. Of course, it’s not Jimmy Logan’s fault or even his boss’s — an HR employee twists Obamacare’s famous buzzword, “pre-existing condition,” against him after noticing a limp in his leg. It’s an excellent little summary of the modern American financial struggle, and even kale-munching leftists like myself will be instantly pulled into having sympathy for this guy.
Rather than blaming any of the usual suspects for his crisis (the Democrats, immigrants, bureaucracy, brown people), Jimmy’s brother, a one-armed bartender played lovingly by Adam Driver (“Star Wars: The Force Awakens”), instead suspects that they’re suffering from a generations-old family curse. The two have grisly injuries, and their folks are dead. The solution? Successfully rob the Charlotte Motor Speedway during the biggest NASCAR race of the year, thereby lifting the curse. Of course it’s that. Why wouldn’t it be that?
From there, it’s a rollicking two hours that feel like one, as we watch the brothers and a steadily growing crew of likable rednecks prepare for and execute the aforementioned heist. There are of course echoes of director Steven Soderbergh’s previous work on the “Ocean’s” franchise, but not as much as you would expect — there’s no cool tech, just entertaining ingenuity from the characters. There are weird little touches like a heist recruitment at an apple bobbing contest, a hand-off with a mysterious man in a full bear suit in the woods and an explosive made from gummy bears and a plastic bag. Joe Bang (Daniel Craig, “Spectre”), the bank robber broken out of prison by the Logan brothers to guide their heist, is a delightfully iconoclastic character that plays off of Craig’s James Bond persona — Bang is nearly the polar opposite of the cold, classy Bond, but the two are equally professional.
It cannot be overstated just how much fun each and every scene in this movie is. The southern mundanity of “Logan Lucky” is just as exciting as the sexy professionalism of “Ocean’s Eleven.”
As usual, Soderbergh’s muted camerawork perfectly services what he’s trying to accomplish. Soderbergh loves actors, and his simple, journeyman style makes you love them too. It’s the people that take focus, not flashy visuals or stunt set pieces. I remember one of the very first lessons I had in film school was about how directors effectively use movie stars, and my professor played scenes with George Clooney from Soderbergh’s “Out of Sight.” I could see that lesson thirty years from now being taught with this movie, with Tatum. There’s an intricate dance that Soderbergh does with celebrity persona, expectations, in-the-moment acting presence and editing rhythm that makes his movies feel alive. More so than any other film this year, “Logan Lucky” feels like it has a pulse.
“Logan Lucky” isn’t doing very well at the box office. It’s not part of any shared universe, there’s no sex, no violence, no corporate tie-ins, no hundred-million-dollar ad campaign. It’s just a good old-fashioned movie, the kind that are not long for this world. This will probably be one of the last ones, so enjoy it now, in theaters, while you still can.