Harry Cohn was one of the most hated of the old-time Hollywood studio bosses. In fact, he was so detested that the large crowd who appeared at his funeral inspired comedian Red Skelton to comment that it proved what he had always said: “Give the people what they want and they’ll come out for it.” An admirer of Mussolini, Cohn had his office at Columbia Pictures designed to resemble Il Duce’s and kept a signed photograph from the Italian dictator on his desk.
But Cohn was not stupid.
An evidence of that was his response when he received Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur’s script for Gunga Din. Cohn said that he had purchased it previously when it was called His Girl Friday. What he appreciated was that while one film was about newspapermen in Chicago and the other about British soldiers in India, the structure of their plots and the incidents driving forward their action were nearly identical.
Steven Soderbergh seems to have aimed to pull off a similar if less inventive stunt with his latest movie, Logan Lucky. While it concerns a race track heist plotted by West Virginia hillbillies, it’s actually a remake of his earlier film Ocean’s Eleven. Since that was itself a remake of a picture starring Frank Sinatra, it means that Soderbergh is offering the public his remake of his previous remake. Perhaps not surprisingly, in spite of overwhelmingly positive reviews, the movie is proving to be a box office dud. One might say that Soderbergh is trying his own heist but the vaults are turning out to be safely locked.
But that isn’t to say that the movie isn’t clever and artful. It is. This version of Ocean’s Eleven is devoid, however, of high-tech devices and glamour. The setting isn’t Las Vegas but the foothills of the Appalachian mountains.
And the protagonist isn’t a well-dressed safe-cracker from New York played by George Clooney. Rather, he’s Jimmy Logan (Channing Tatum), a struggling, divorced construction worker who limps about in his dirty overalls. Having been unjustly dismissed from his job as a construction worker at the Charlotte Motor Speedway, he plots his revenge by planning a robbery of the track. To that end he enlists his siblings in his scheme: his brother Clyde, an Iraq War vet who is missing a hand, and Mellie, a beautician. The first role is played by Girls star Adam Driver, the second by Elvis Presley’s fetching granddaughter Riley Keough.
The team gradually expands from there to include convicted bank robber Joe Bang (Daniel Craig) and his two dimwitted brothers (Brian Gleason and Jack Quaid). They serve as comic relief, as does a requisite British villain (a much disguised Seth Macfarlane), a pompous race car sponsor who has made a fortune through sales of his branded energy drink.
There’s also a subplot involving Jimmy’s self-infatuated ex-wife (Katie Holmes), now married to a successful car dealer, and his daughter (Farrah Mackenzie), who aspires to win the West Virginia child beauty pageant.
Logan Lucky‘s script is credited to a seemingly non-existent figure named Rebecca Blunt, but it’s almost universally believed in Hollywood that Soderbergh wrote it himself. That is both what’s right and wrong with the picture. For while it displays Soderbergh’s imagination and skill at plotting and it’s full of charming incidents, it also reflects the amoral and derivative habits of mind characteristic of La-la-land. As even its own characters note, it celebrates crime. Nor is there anything original in it.
Further, while the design of its plot is immensely skillful, its holes are glaringly obvious. Let me cite but two. One such improbability involves its span of action. When the movie opens, its hero is commuting to work from somewhere in southern West Virginia to Charlotte. This is a trek of at least 100 miles each way on mountain roads. Later, the movie requires two characters to meet behind bars. Yet the first is incarcerated in a prison and the second in a jail. To be fair, the movie aspires to be no more than trashy entertainment.
And that’s all it is.
Perhaps the best thing in it is country singer Dwight Yoakam, who all but steals the film in the part of the prison/jail’s conniving warden. In a picture, that relentlessly copies other movies and that features celebrities posing as “regular” folks, he’s noticeably the genuine article.