Director Steven Soderbergh has called his film, Logan Lucky, “Ocean’s 11’s inbred cousin.” Soderbergh has always been as much of a film critic as a filmmaker. It’s just that his instrument of criticism is a camera instead of a pen. So it’s no surprise that he can boil down the essence of his new film so concisely. “Ocean’s 11’s inbred cousin” is precisely what Logan Lucky is—a star-studded movie about a group of West Virginian hillbillies who rob a NASCAR race because one of them, Jimmy Logan (Channing Tatum), wants to keep his family together. Logan Lucky substitutes engine grease and patriotism for Ocean’s 11’s glamour and celebrity, but everything else is exactly the same.
You’d be forgiven for thinking there’s something opportunistic and patronizing about the endeavor, as if middle America is a plum ripe for picking if one plays to its stereotypes. It requires a deft directorial hand to render regional distinction in a way that comes across as compassionate rather than mocking. Soderbergh has always been a clinical director. His best characters are similarly “cool,” but Logan Lucky depends on evident warmth. Sure, hillbillies are not known to be emotionally expressive—there we go, falling back on stereotypes again—but an observant filmmaker who knows his story’s context would know how to capture the subtle ways they show each other they care. Recall all the small moments in the Ocean’s films that sell Danny and Rusty’s friendship. Perhaps Soderbergh just knows the Los Angeles/Las Vegas context better. Logan Lucky tells us Jimmy loves his daughter instead of showing us, and telling just doesn’t sell.
I am, unfortunately, making Logan Lucky out to be much less fun that it is. The movie is terrifically entertaining and frequently funny. It as good a time as you can hope to have at a summer movie when you’re just looking for an escape from the summer heat for a couple of hours, and I mean that in both the complimentary and pejorative sense. I wish we had more well-acted, well-directed, well-written films made for adult (but not “mature) audiences released in the summer and year-round. Too much of our movie landscape February to November is aimed at adolescent and younger audiences. No wonder adults prefer to stay home and watch TV. More Logan Luckys, please, stereotypes or not.
And that is Soderbergh’s goal with this movie. His release plan aims to upend the current system by pre-selling the distribution rights for the film to pay for the making of the film. His actors and crew have agreed to scale pay off gross profits from the film. This means, unlike all other studio films, Logan Lucky is making money with every ticket sold instead of the first $50M or more going to recoup marketing and production costs. That bit of movie economics may seem boring to you, but the industry lives by these kinds of considerations. You think it’s an accident that all the movies in theaters are aimed at adolescents and small children? That’s a marketing decision, not an artistic one. Soderbergh is looking to inject a little artistry back into the movie business. Logan Lucky’s $8M, opening weekend gross is $8M in profit. Beauty and the Beast, 2017’s highest grossing film so far, had to make $328M before it turned that kind of profit. It had been out three weeks before it accomplished that. Wonder Woman probably didn’t turn a profit until at least week four of its release.
So it galls me a little to write a single negative word about Logan Lucky at all. I want it to succeed. I want you to go see it in theaters. Soon. Because I want more movies like it.
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