'Logan Lucky': Steven Soderbergh hooks up with Channing Tatum for hillbilly heist movie

A few years ago, Steven Soderbergh announced he was retiring from movies — apparently a move as mischievous and deceptive as the movie that brought him back, Logan Lucky.

Soderbergh has written his own nickname for this comeback: Ocean’s 7-Eleven — appropriate for a movie that trades the upscale casino capering of the Ocean’s franchise for a hillbilly heist set in Appalachia.

As such, it’s really more of a piece with Magic Mike, a male-stripper movie that was, underneath the body oil, a sly look at the way people make a living in the gig economy (and commercially shrewd — who wants to see Channing Tatum as an Uber driver?).

Tatum is back as Jimmy Logan, a blue-collar guy in red-state West Virginia who loses his job at a NASCAR track when it’s determined that by omitting details of an old football injury, he lied to his employers and is fired.

Logan’s tired of working hard with nothing to show for it, and when he hits rock bottom (ex-wife Katie Holmes wants to end his custody visits), it occurs to him he’s been unfairly dismissed from a facility he knows well enough to rob.

For this, he enlists the assistance of his one-armed Iraq war vet brother (Adam Driver, a vet in real life) and motorhead sister (Riley Keough), but he needs a safecracker, and the only good one (Daniel Craig) is behind bars. So Soderbergh’s intricately orchestrated heist movie is also a jailbreak movie, and the whole thing comes together to form the best Burt Reynolds movie he never made.

Or that’s the goal, anyway. The movie is too long, and some of the accents are bad to the point of being disrespectful. Englishman Craig is understandably lost here, but he’s actually better than Driver, whose idea of being a West Virginian is to speak slowly and in a monotone, as though recovering from a stroke via speech therapy.

Getting the accent — and role — exactly right is Keough, also known as Elvis Presley’s granddaughter, who is a better actor than her granddad (and a recent favorite of Soderbergh’s; she starred in Starz’s version of his The Girlfriend Experience). The more she contributes to Logan Lucky, the better it gets, and by the time she takes over in the final section, the movie is actually pretty good.

Its story-within-a-story structure is not revealed until the third (or maybe it’s the fourth) act, by which time a late-arriving FBI investigation (led by Hilary Swank) extends and complicates the narrative.

This is more than just fancy plotting. The movie has things on its mind, like the expendability of labor in the modern workplace. There is also something at work in the way the federal investigation plays out — note how the interests of money and capital affect the priorities of law enforcement — that recalls our recent financial crisis.

The movie makes a theme song of John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads,” but its attitude recalls another country tune.

Soderbergh asks: What if the people who usually get the shaft get the gold mine?

MOVIES

Logan Lucky

  • Directed by Steven Soderbergh. With Channing Tatum, Adam Driver, Daniel Craig, Riley Keough, Katie Holmes and Hilary Swank. Distributed by Bleecker Street.
  • Parent's guide: PG-13 (language and crude comments)
  • Running time: 1 hour, 59 mins.
  • Playing at: Area theaters