Logan Lucky review: “Daniel Craig gives a revelatory comic turn”

Channing Tatum and Daniel Craig help Ocean's Eleven director Steven Soderbergh give the heist movie a raucous redneck refit

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★★★

With its southern sass, à la mode cast, esteemed director and funk-infused soundtrack, Logan Lucky has the attraction of an industrial-strength magnet. But while its jocular criminality is frequently diverting, it doesn’t always hit the mark.

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It sees Steven Soderbergh revisit the outlandish schemes of his Ocean’s trilogy, which he wrapped up a decade ago. Replacing sharp suits and cool customers with harebrained plans and halfwits, Soderbergh is working from a script by first-timer Rebecca Blunt in a caper that owes a particular debt to the Coens.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EsQHkdMqD6g?ecver=2

This self-styled hillbilly heist movie follows Channing Tatum’s problematically proud West Virginian Jimmy Logan, a former high-school football hero who’s been laid off from his workman job. When his ex-wife Bobbie Jo (Katie Holmes) threatens to move, Jimmy is unable to scrape together the legal funds to keep his precocious daughter Sadie (Farrah Mackenzie) in the vicinity.

In desperation he draws up a robbery to-do list, securing the help of his younger brother and partner-in-low-level-scrapes Clyde (Adam Driver), a one-armed bartender and Iraq War veteran convinced that the family are doomed to ill fortune. They’re joined by their hairstylist, speed-freak sister Mellie (Riley Keough) and incarcerated explosives expert Joe Bang (Daniel Craig) in a plot to rob the Charlotte Motor Speedway, home of Nascar.

The outwardly slow siblings prove remarkably ingenious, with Jimmy – who was previously employed to fill in sinkholes beneath the racetrack – contriving a way in via the pneumatic tube transport system (PTT), which rushes cash to the vault like a “money superhighway”.

There’s a cartoonishness here, from the brazenly preposterous concept to the costume design – epitomised by the fat monochrome stripes of the Monroe Correctional Facility uniform worn by Craig and by Keough’s neon ensembles. The heist itself is executed with aplomb as the film flits between the amusingly civilised prison riot that facilitates Bang’s escape and the gang’s hijacking of the PTT.

If Logan Lucky sounds laugh-a-minute, it sometimes feels it, but it doesn’t always pop. Seth MacFarlane has a cringe-worthy cameo as obnoxious Englishman Max Chilblain, while Sebastian Stan (Marvel’s Winter Soldier) barely registers as a clean-living driver. The scenes between Tatum and Mackenzie’s father and daughter are charming and a subplot involving Sadie’s participation in a pageant is good for a few guilty titters, but poking fun at the tackiness of such events has been done better in films from Little Miss Sunshine to Happy, Texas to Drop Dead Gorgeous.

Soderbergh is a surer hand at injecting wry humour than he is at sustaining broad farce – the recent Baby Driver has this beat for energy, if not plot. The script slings out a few choice one-liners – Blunt is certainly one to watch – and there’s an inspired scene involving an improbable bomb. But Tatum’s Jimmy is a touch too sullen in the lead; the actor doesn’t have much of a chance to flex the comic chops he showcased so appealingly in the Jump Street films.

Nevertheless, Driver is his usual amusingly gloomy self and Jack Quaid and Brian Gleeson are a hoot as Joe Bang’s morally conflicted brothers – genuine dullards who lack even the Logans’ secret smarts. The increasingly excellent Keough (Golden Globe-nominated for her role in TV’s The Girlfriend Experience) is spot-on, too, although she doesn’t get the screen time she deserves; ditto Holmes, Katherine Waterston as a mobile medic and Hilary Swank as an FBI agent – it’s the women who are, as ever in heist movies, short-changed.

Yet it’s Craig’s performance that’s the takeaway. In a revelatory comic turn – akin but not quite equal to Ralph Fiennes in The Grand Budapest Hotel –  the actor swaps the snug tailoring of Bond for prison duds and peroxide in a film where he finally gets to have some fun.

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Logan Lucky is released in cinemas on Friday 25 August