The caper comedy "Logan Lucky" isn't about very much. Nominally, it's about love of family and bogus notions of curses or luck, but primarily it's an escapist lark that just wants to tickle audiences for a couple of hours. And on that level, "Logan Lucky" works like gangbusters: It's vintage Soderbergh in its confident construction, sleek photography, stellar ensemble acting, and nimble sense of cinematic play.
To make the film, director Steven Soderbergh emerged from a four-year break from feature filmmaking that's been called a "retirement" (clearly not) and a "sabbatical" (except that the director worked continuously, as feature cinematographer, editor, and producer, as well as directing for TV and apparently shooting a secret feature using iPhones). So that much-discussed "retirement" turns out, happily, to have been a lot of talk, not unlike "Logan Lucky," in which a trio of siblings have words about a supposed "Logan family curse" while contemplating the robbery of the Charlotte Motor Speedway during a NASCAR race.
Loose lips sink ships -- when you're plotting a heist and when, like Soderbergh, you're giving interviews all the time. The latest talk surrounds the film's touted first-time screenwriter Rebecca Blunt: according to anonymous inside sources, Blunt is a pseudonym for Soderbergh's wife, Jules Asner, (the response from a director himself known for using pseudonyms: "Well, that's going to be news to Rebecca Blunt").
Blunt and Soderbergh take a mostly deadpan tack in telling the story of West Virginia natives Jimmy, Clyde, and Mellie Logan (Channing Tatum, Adam Driver, and Riley Keough). They're working-class folks -- that is, until Jimmy loses his construction job because of a limp branded "a pre-existing condition and ...a liability issue." Robbery recruits Joe Bang (Daniel Craig) and his little brothers Sam and Fish Bang (Brendan Gleeson and Jack Quaid) who skirt closer to "hillbilly" clichés (the script's working title was "Hillbilly Heist"), but Soderbergh avoids the superior tone that has plagued the Coen Brothers when dealing with low-income, under-educated characters.
Rather, "Logan Lucky" works to build identification with and affection for the Logans and Jimmy, in particular. Jimmy's strongest motivation, for example, is the love of his adorable daughter Sadie (Farrah Mackenzie), since Jimmy's ex-wife (Katie Holmes) intends a move that threatens his custody access. Sadie's participation in children's beauty pageants plays funny-sad, but also showcases sincere enthusiasm and love.
Much of the humor in the picture comes from bickering, with amusing disagreements over chemistry and a certain buzzy TV show. But audiences will agree that the heist structure holds up well enough to make familiar material stand tall. Soderbergh extends to his clutch supporting player an "Introducing Daniel Craig" credit pointing out the freshness of his performance, and not long before, the film preemptively tells a self-referential joke on itself. Both are unmistakable signals that Soderbergh's here to have fun, and his mood is contagious.