Overall Plot: 7
Audience Assumptions: No familiarity
Part One: 90-Something Percent on Rotten Tomatoes Can Mean “Universally Okay”
A few weeks ago, I decided to see a film. Shocking, I know. There wasn’t much in theatres I was interested in or hadn’t seen, except this film called Logan Lucky, which I remembered from seeing its trailer ahead of another film (Dunkirk, I think), so that’s the one I chose. When I came out of the theatre, I had a perplexing feeling about the film and wasn’t quite sure if I liked it or not. It was fine for what it was – a heist film set in West Virginia, with NASCAR and beauty pageants as its backdrop, and while I’m not overly fond of that aesthetic, it handled it acceptably and was well-written, well-paced, and well-edited enough for me to conclude it was good.
This film has since been bothering me, though, not because I felt it failed to live up to the generally high reviews it received, or because it wasn’t as funny as I thought it would be, though both of those things were true. Rather, it bothered me because I wanted to like it, but thinking back I could only remember the things I wished would have been cut or rearranged. It gave me a similar sensation to Interstellar, which I have long maintained needed about two more runs through a soulless editor to become an excellent film. For what it is, Logan Lucky is good, but there are several small warts that pop up frequently enough throughout the film to prevent me from considering it anything but the plainest vanilla version of “good.”
Part Two: What Do Prisons and NASCAR Have in Common?
The story is a fairly standard heist with a greater emphasis on character than is typical of the genre. The main character, one of the titular Logan brothers, is something of a deadbeat dad to his pageant queen-aspiring young daughter, who lives with her mother and step-father while the protagonist struggles to make ends meet. He has an ex-army veteran amputee brother who harbors resentment toward the protagonist for receiving the short stick on petty crimes they used to pull when they were younger. I know that many of the actors in this film are famous, but the only one I could recognize off the top of my head (because I am an uncultured asshole who has been known to mistake my coworkers for complete strangers if seen out of their regular context), the only one I recognized while watching the film was Adam Driver. Normally I won’t comment on the actors who play certain roles because I can’t be bothered to look people up on IMDb, but I think it’s worth bringing up here because I spent half the film trying to figure out if the guy playing this character was in fact Kylo Ren, or if he just closely resembled Kylo Ren. A haircut might have solved this issue.
Eventually the protagonist ropes his younger brother into a heist on a NASCAR track and the two of them start to assemble a team consisting of themselves, their sister, an incarcerated explosives expert, and the latter’s two brothers. The major conceit of this film that distinguishes it from other heist films is that one of their crew members is currently in prison, meaning they have to first break him out to do the job, get it done, and then get him back without anyone in the prison realizing it. On top of the actual heist, the protagonist faces a personal dilemma regarding his relationship with his daughter, whose beauty pageant falls on the same day as the heist. So it’s all very complicated, and I actually do quite like the setup.
Part Three: Do Those Rednecks Really Know “All the Twitters?”
There are a lot of working parts here and many things I enjoyed about this film. Because it’s an ensemble piece with a focus on unique characters in fairly abstract circumstances, it is easy for the three major characters – the Logan brothers and the explosives expert – to come across in a short span of time, and all three of them are a delight to see on-screen. Aside from being played by competent actors, their dialogue is sharp and expressive. The heist and the prison breakout are both tense and humorous, full of lovely little moments that give the film a lighthearted, feel-good tone. As in most heist films, you root for the criminals, but the level of accountability in this film is also nice. For instance, the character in prison go back to prison at the end and play by-the-book. The protagonist returns the bulk of the money after the heist, partly as a gesture to his friends and family to show that pulling of the job was more important to him than the money gained, and also as part of the plan to ensure that the money they do get away with isn’t hot. These elements all work within the story.
However, there are several things that continuously get in the way and hinder my enjoyment of the film. Foremost among these is the last twenty to thirty minutes of the film. I genuinely thought the film would end after the heist is complete and the money is returned, but it continues through an FBI investigation that ultimately leads nowhere. This subplot is introduced at the very end of the film, bringing in a completely new character whose subplot isn’t ever really resolved. While a brief clip in these concluding minutes provides explanation for certain developments during the heist and satisfies audience members who desire the characters to get away with the money, this comes after far too log of a lull in the action, and much of it is unnecessary. The important characters are cast aside at various points in favor of a minor and exceedingly irritating NASCAR sponsor character who serves little to no purpose in the film and yet occupies at least half a dozen of his own scenes. Beyond this, I didn’t care to learn about the protagonist’s ex-wife or her new husband, as they serve little role in the story, and while the pageant subplot had a satisfying ending, it was a bit saccharine for my tastes and I ended up not feeling much sympathy for the little girl at any point in the story.
There’s a litany of small unnecessary scenes or moments outside of my major complaints, and while these moments aren’t necessarily bad themselves, they remain extraneous nonetheless. I understand that the cockroaches were used to determine which vault the pipes went to, but considering that at no point do the heist members even enter the vault, why construct an elaborate color-coded cockroach-and-cake-based plan to determine which pipes do what? Wouldn’t it be easier to read their labels, or find schematics of the pipe layout, or, I don’t know, assume all of the money pipes probably transport money? Why was the mobile health center lady important? Why were the explosive expert’s brothers in the story, aside from occasional moments of comic relief? They do little to aid the actual heist, and for that matter, neither does the sister character – she’s essentially the getaway driver, and that’s about it.
The heist in this film could have easily been performed with only three or four people, and the three more minor players greatly lack character in comparison to the three major ones. I get the sense from the large number of characters and interacting subplots that this film might have preferred to have been a miniseries or perhaps fostered a sequel to flesh out the characters outside of those participating in the heist. There are certainly enough characters to fill a miniseries, and I think that if this film had been just that much tighter, either by cutting characters or making minor elements mesh more efficiently with the main plot, I would have liked it more. As is, it’s a fine film to watch if you have a free weekend, and it’s worth a view, just not if you have anything better to do, and not for the price of theatre admission.