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PHIL ON FILM: Heist flick 'Logan Lucky' makes off with laughs, thrills

Posted at 8:29 AM, Aug 18, 2017
and last updated 2017-08-18 12:41:16-04

Filmmaker Steven Soderbergh's "Ocean's" series may have folded, but he proves with "Logan Lucky" that he's got plenty of heist film chips left on the table.

Trotting out a cast of high-caliber actors, all playing against type, Soderbergh spins a wily, joyous slice of Southern-fried outlaw chicanery.

The credits may as well read "Introducing Channing Tatum," because the film is very much the screen icon's debut as a non-action figure actor. After playing, well, Channing Tatum in pretty much every project to this point in his career, Tatum takes on a meaty, diverse role for the first time, showing off he's more than a dudebro who can shoot stuff and dance.

As down-on-his-luck, divorced West Virginia dad Jimmy Logan, Tatum nails a Matthew McConaughey-like Southern drawl. Everyone around him may dismiss him as a doltish bumpkin, but Jimmy harbors grandiose plans of pulling off the big score, and he's done the homework to back it up.

His choice of crewmates, though, is a little suspect. His amputee barkeep brother, Clyde (Adam Driver), is a glum worry wart whose relentless pessimism keeps Jimmy's self-assured bombast in check, but also causes more problems than it's worth.

Clyde grudgingly agrees to go along with Jimmy's plan to rip off a NASCAR race's infield cash stash. To get the job done, they also need to pull a prison break, busting out family friend Joe Bang (Daniel Craig), who is locked up but claims to have the ability to crack the high-security vault that houses the cash hauled in by the pop-up community that emerges on race weekend.

Although the elaborate vault robbery fills out the skeleton of the plot -- which involves mining tunnels, law enforcement double crosses, surveillance and rampant misdirection -- but the true draw is the dialogue. A rich tapestry of clueless aphorisms, passive-aggressive insults and mic-drop one-liners, the script seems like a clever country song come to life. 

With a number of recognizable actors, including Katie Holmes, Hilary Swank and Riley Keough, popping up in memorable small roles, the film takes on an "Ocean's Eleven" feel, stripped away of the sheen and high-stakes resources of the master criminals in that series. 

In the case of the stripped-down, unassuming "Logan Lucky," less can be more. Soderbergh raids his vault of verbal gems, clever plot machinations and capable actors for yet another thrilling and comical high-wire act, showing it's better to be good than lucky.

RATING: 3 stars out of 4.