Stephen Soderbergh is America's most amazing filmmaker. I'm amazed and dazzled by every choice he makes. He has, in that regard, far surpassed Martin Scorsese in versatility and unpredictability.
"Logan Lucky" is Soderbergh's good-hearted, blue-collar version of the kind of comedy caper movie that Frank Sinatra and his tuxedoed rat pack invented with the original "Ocean's 11" (Dean, Sammy, Lawford etc.). Years later the whole "Ocean's 11" idea -- a robbery of all the casinos in Vegas by Hollywood's coolest of the cool -- was populated by George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Andy Garcia, Julia Roberts and Casey Affleck, with Soderbergh in charge.
It was such a smash that the gang did it twice more. Smash hits every time. Oodles of box office.
"Logan Lucky" is the scuffling version of that. No one wears a suit, much less a pricey one. Everyone needs money because no one has any -- not really. People have physical handicaps. One of the two brothers in the center of the caper can't keep his construction jobs because he has a limp and the minute the insurance companies find out, he's sent packing, no matter how good at his job he is. His brother is a bartender serving drinks with one hand because he left the other in Iraq.
Instead of Clooney and his gang of grinning narcissists, we've got Channing Tatum and Adam Driver (as the two brothers); a good-humored Daniel Craig having a ball without Bondian wardrobe and props; Dwight Yoakam; Katie Holmes, Seth MacFarlane; Hilary Swank (as a humorless cop); and Riley Keough, Elvis' granddaughter and,therefore, an authentic princess below the Mason-Dixon line.
The idea is to vacuum a ton of money from the North Carolina Motor speedway where a NASCAR blowout is taking place. So the brothers break their favorite demolition expert out of jail to do it. That's Craig, playing a platinum-haired guy named Joe Bang. Joe will be happy to sign on if the boys include his two idiot relatives, Sam Bang and Fish Bang. They agree. What's one idiot more or less in such a caper?
Much was made years ago when the astonishingly prolific Soderbergh pretended to "retire" from moviemaking. Even though it didn't stop him from winning Emmys on TV for a Liberace biopic or from directing the cable-TV series "The Knick," some people believed him and worried. I wasn't one of them. How the devil would a guy retire who not only directs his films but co-writes them and photographs them under an assumed name?
Every new Soderbergh movie is an adventure. It all started with "sex, lies and videotape." Then came "Kafka," and "King of the Hill." By the time of the Emmy wins for HBO's "Behind the Candleabra" and the money came pouring in for the Ocean movies and, yes, "Magic Mike," he also had made "The Girlfriend Experience"; "Che" Parts One and Two; "Traffic"; a remake of Andrei Tarkovsky's version of Stanislaw Lem's "Solaris"; "Erin Brockovich" (an Oscar for his pal Julia Roberts); "The Limey"; and "Out of Sight," the best movie Jennifer Lopez will ever make.
I cannot tell you how sorry I am that this generous and often funny comedy caper movie with its heart full of the desire for megaplex audience unification is opening during a weekend that has been hopelessly polarized by politics. The very idea of Hollywood elitist smart-alecks and motor sport celebrants with NASCAR trucker hats yucking it up in the same megaplex theater seems so unlikely. Too bad.
Anyone who needs reminding of how America laughs and enjoys movies together, will have few better demonstrations for a while than "Logan Lucky."
3 1/2 stars (out of four)
Channing Tatum, Adam Driver, Daniel Craig, Dwight Yoakam, Riley Keough, Katie Holmes, Hilary Swank and Seth MacFarlane in Steven Soderbergh's raucous comedy caper movie about rednecks robbing all the weekend proceeds of a big North Carolina NASCAR race. Rated PG-13 for language and crudity. 119 minutes. Opens this evening.