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Steven Soderbergh Returns from 'Retirement' to Amuse Himself

This image released by Bleecker Street shows director Steven Soderbergh, left, and actor Daniel Craig on the set of their film "Logan Lucky." (Claudette Barius/Fingerprint Releasing/Bleecker Street)
This image released by Bleecker Street shows director Steven Soderbergh, left, and actor Daniel Craig on the set of their film "Logan Lucky." (Claudette Barius/Fingerprint Releasing/Bleecker Street)

Slick, smart, impeccably executed, "Logan Lucky" is a highbrow heist movie involving some lowbrow folks. If it verges on being a little too pleased with itself for its own good, that's an acceptable price to pay for something that makes you smile.

More an entertainment than a laugh out loud comedy, "Logan" not only marks the return of director Steven Soderbergh to big screen work after a nominal retirement that no one but he took seriously, it also indicates why he came back.

For the filmmaker, who serves as both his own cinematographer and editor, the rush of being able to coordinate a cinematic confection as elaborate as this, to have the clout to pull in heaps of top acting talent for a venture that need only please himself, must be a hard habit to break.

With Channing Tatum and Adam Driver as good old boy brothers who look nothing alike as the perpetrators and NASCAR's Coca-Cola 600 Memorial Day race at North Carolina's Charlotte Motor Speedway as the target, "Logan Lucky" is such a nod to other caper films that it even calls itself "Oceans 7-Eleven."

 

 

That line is typical of the self-aware quality of the script, credited to the possibly pseudonymous Rebecca Blunt, which details a larcenous plot of such fearsome complexity it's hard to believe the film's eccentric characters could remember it, let alone think it up. Which, of course, is part of the joke.

Even the title itself is something of a jest, referring to a family of such thundering bad fortune that the phrase "Logan Lucky" is the equivalent of "Elephant Man Glamorous" or "Cruella de Vil Kindly."

"Logan Lucky" opens in Boone County, W.V., with one of the film's sweetest scenes. Jimmy Logan (Tatum at his most effective) waxes euphoric about his favorite song, John Denver's "Take Me Home, Country Roads" as young daughter, Sadie (a perky Farrah Mackenzie), expertly helps him repair his pickup while planning her participation in the forthcoming Little Miss West Virginia pageant.

Then the film crosses state lines to Charlotte where Jimmy, an out of work coal miner, is part of a crew hired to shore up sinkholes under the motor speedway's infield.

But Jimmy gets fired for a preexisting condition, likely a career-ending football injury that was just one of the things that did not go right for this former golden boy high school quarterback, including the relationship with his angry ex-wife (Katie Holmes) who is threatening to move out of state and take Sadie with her.

All this has Jimmy's low-key brother, Clyde (Driver), who lost his hand and forearm in Iraq ("He stepped up when others stepped back," someone says) brooding over a possible family curse as he dexterously works behind the bar at a drinking establishment called the Duck Tape.

Jimmy, for his part, has no time for family curses. A believer in not getting mad but getting even, he has painstakingly handwritten his "Top Ten Rules for Robbing a Bank" and plans to put them into operation.

It turns out that before he got fired, Jimmy both caught a glimpse of the complex pneumatic tube system that feeds concessionaires' money to the speedway's vault and found out that the underground work he was part of led to the turning off of the vault's alarm system. Bingo.

Also a believer in family, Jimmy not only drafts Clyde into the plan but also their sister, Mellie (Soderbergh veteran Riley Keough), a beauty salon operator who is as mad about cars as any NASCAR gearhead.

Because forced entry into that speedway safe is the heart of Jimmy's plan, he enlists the help of the only local with vault experience, the legendary Joe Bang.

With his hair dyed blonde and cut as short as his temper, Joe Bang looks so little like the James Bond actor who plays him that his on-screen credit amusingly reads "Introducing Daniel Craig."

As if Jimmy's plan isn't already so convoluted that implausible doesn't begin to do it justice, he also has to deal with the unfortunate facts that a) Joe Bang is at the moment, as he puts it, "in-car-cer-ated," and b) that Bang wants to include his brothers Fish and Sam (Jack Quaid and Brian Gleeson), nominal computer wizards who claim to "know all the Twitters."

Soderbergh's ability to attract polished actors to take on unpolished roles is part of the reason it's fun, and "Logan Lucky's" cast also includes Katherine Waterston as a woman out of Jimmy's past and Hilary Swank as a suspicious FBI agent.

Invariably amusing though it is as it unfolds, "Logan Lucky" feels at times like it was constructed by Soderbergh strictly for his own personal amusement, but if that is the case the filmmaker certainly doesn't try to hide it.

"Nobody was robbed during the making of this film," a closing credit reads. "Except you." You have been warned.

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'Logan Lucky'

Rating: PG-13 for language and some crude comments

Running time: 1 hour, 59 minutes

Playing: In general release

kenneth.turan@latimes.com

@KennethTuran ___

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This article is written by Kenneth Turan from The Los Angeles Times and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.

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