“Introducing Daniel Craig as Joe Bang.”
Say what? What’s that? Is that some kind of a joke?
Yes, it is. Courtesy of Steven Soderbergh. He’s some kind of a joker, that guy.
That teasing line about Craig in the closing credits of “Logan Lucky” is just one of a seemingly endless series of jokes and funny situations Soderbergh has packed into his triumphant return to big-screen directing.
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He famously announced in 2013 he was retiring from feature filmmaking to concentrate on making movies for TV. Thankfully, it appears he was just kidding. Seems he couldn’t stay away from his first love.
What he’s returned with is a movie right in his wheelhouse: a heist picture. An intricately plotted, wonderfully acted and brilliantly scripted movie that’s a total delight from start to finish.
The script, which doesn’t have an ounce of fat on it and ties all its variegated elements neatly together at the end, was written by Rebecca Blunt. Her screenplay is as much of a star as the actors.
Soderbergh sneakily ties “Logan Lucky” to his “Oceans” heist-movie trilogy by having a newsreader’s voice on a background TV refer to the crime as an “Oceans 7-Eleven” escapade.
Set along the border of West Virginia and North Carolina, “Logan Lucky” is a rich stew of memorably distinctive regional characters. We’re in blue-collar country, where accents are thick and incomes are low.
The thickness of the accents and the general goofiness of the characters at first suggest the movie is trafficking in easy mockery and crude stereotyping, presenting a menagerie of yokels, bumpkins and rubes.
But that’s just Soderbergh’s way of toying with and confounding audience expectations. His chief characters are, in fact, very canny and startlingly inventive in the planning and execution of their heist.
The main character, Jimmy Logan (Channing Tatum) is a mineworker abruptly canned at the start on account of a “pre-existing condition” (he limps). It’s unfair. Mightily peeved, he conceives a plan to loot the vault of an area NASCAR track, the underground infrastructure of which he’s familiar with on account of having worked in the tunnels beneath the track in the job from which he was fired.
He writes a list of steps of how to rob a bank and sticks it on his kitchen wall. The scheme involves, among other things, cockroaches and cake and a lot of high-speed driving.
To pull off the heist, he needs the help of an expert in explosives. That would be Joe Bang, a dude with close-cropped, peroxide-blond hair, tats all over and an accent from far back in the hills.
Oh, and one more thing: He is, as he reminds Jimmy, “in-car-ce-re-ted.”
Since he delivers that info to Jimmy and his brother Clyde Logan (Adam Driver) in the visiting area of the local penitentiary, it almost goes without saying. But hearing Craig deliver the line with such sly gusto it’s instantly obvious why it had to be said. It’s one of the high points of his performance.
There are plots within plots here, wheels within wheels, meshing to further the scheme.
To get Joe on the job, the brothers must break him out of prison, and then break him back in before the authorities know he’s escaped. Twin jailbreaks are very hard to pull off, and the scheming and execution of that part of the plan are the work of low-rent masterminds in action.
Joe couldn’t be more different from James Bond, and Craig throws himself into playing him with evident glee. That “introducing” credit is Soderbergh’s way of offering humorous tribute to the actor’s versatility.
Soderbergh, like Craig and everyone else in the movie, seems to be having the time of his life here. When you see it you’ll know that feeling, too.
☆☆☆☆☆ stars out of 5
Cast: Channing Tatum, Daniel Craig, Adam Driver, Riley Keough, Dwight Yoakam.
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Running time: 2 hours
Rated: PG-13 for language and some crude comments.