By Noel Vera
Directed by Steven Soderbergh
LATE IN Logan Lucky, a news announcer dubbed the racetrack robbers the “Ocean 7-11” and I can’t think of a better term to describe the picture: basically a Steven Soderbergh-directed heist movie with a large cast and an intricately plotted, carefully executed plan, only with thick West Virginia accents and less resources (at one point bleach pens, fake salt, and gummy bears are tossed together in a plastic bag to make an IED).
Or you can call this a smarter more overtly comic Hell or High Water — both films featuring a pair of brothers involved in criminal activities, both carrying the subtext of blue-collar resentment against The Powers that Be. David McKenzie was smart enough to direct that resentment against a ready target, the banks that caused the economic crisis in the first place (to be fair they deserve that resentment) but the script he used (by Sicario’s Taylor Sheridan) tended to stack the deck by making one of the brothers (Chris Pine) sympathetic and adorable.
Soderbergh wants to go that way — nearly all his characters are adorable — but has a problem: who plays the bad guy? Not NASCAR (or to be more specific the Charlotte Motor Speedway) — they’re allowing Soderbergh rare access to their facilities. A few satiric barbs are fired in the direction of prison guards and administrators, not to mention the FBI — but they mainly function as slow-witted obstacles the gang needs to evade or dance past. Soderbergh (or rather his scriptwriter Rebecca Blunt who — rumor has it — is fictitious) has to manufacture one in the guise of Max Chilblain (Seth McFarlane sporting an English accent) as the owner of a power-drink company (his surname is the term for a skin condition). Unpleasant touch of xenophobia there — but that’s all right (I suppose); Max is more of a jerk than a real villain.
The heist itself is as elaborate and carefully planned as you might wish for, with the added element that, unlike Danny Ocean’s crew, none of these people (except maybe Daniel Craig’s hilariously bleach-blonde Joe Bang, veteran safecracker, and his dim brothers) are experienced criminals, most of them attempting this kind of activity for the first time… adds the spice of uncertainty and suspense to proceedings. There’s also the aforementioned lack of resources (another bomb Bang designs consists of jars of chemicals and a list of precise instructions his brothers barely manage to carry out).
A thing of beauty possessed of the eccentric charm typical of any Rube Goldberg device. Soderbergh with the help of Peter Andrews and Mary Ann Bernard (habitual Soderbergh pseudonyms) shoot and edit said thing with practiced precision; the broad accents and sweaty slapstick help keep the proceedings from becoming too precise — need to relax a little to have any real fun.
Not the first time this suggestion has been made but maybe Soderbergh should stick to genre entertainments. His artier efforts lack energy and likeability; his adaptation of Stanislaw Lem’s Solaris for example is so solemn as to be soporific, and unlike Tarkovsky’s version — which wasn’t exactly a barrel of laughs — lacks the visual poetry to sufficiently hold one’s interest. This though is like Goldilock’s porridge: not too hot, not too cold, the formulation and execution done exactly right.
MTRCB Rating: PG