he good news about the new Steven Soderbergh film, “Logan Lucky,” is that, although it’s about a heist, it contains not a single person named Ocean. George Clooney in a well-pressed suit, his bons mots tumbling like dice, is never going to be an eyesore, but even the proudest Las Vegan will have tired of the spectacle by now. That explains why Soderbergh, who directed “Ocean’s Eleven” (2001) and its two sequels, begins the latest movie with so sweaty a statement of intent: Channing Tatum, busy with his tools, under the hood of a truck. Sitting nearby is his young daughter, Sadie (Farrah Mackenzie), who passes him the wrenches that he needs. Caesars Palace seems a long way off.
Tatum plays Jimmy Logan, who lives in Boone County, West Virginia, and drives an excavator at the mine. As befits a lover of country music, he has an ex-wife named Bobbie Jo (Katie Holmes), who wears a fringed white top and rhinestone-studded jeans, and a sister, Mellie (Riley Keough), who works as a hairdresser. Stopping by Mellie’s salon, Jimmy admits to one of her clients that he doesn’t like cell phones. “You one of those Unabomber types?” she asks. Jimmy also has a brother, Clyde (Adam Driver), who lost half an arm in Iraq. Despite being, in physical terms, the least plausible siblings since Danny DeVito and Arnold Schwarzenegger, in “Twins” (1988), Jimmy and Clyde are conjoined in mental sloth. In the words of one onlooker, “You Logans must be as simpleminded as people say.”
Yet the movie doesn’t always bear out that verdict. For one thing, the brothers show a casual proficiency that borders on cool. Clyde pours drinks, with a conjurer’s grace, at a local bar; Jimmy takes off his hard hat and skims it backhanded into a storage locker, yards away, like 007 tossing his trilby onto a hat stand. Then there’s the plan. In Jimmy’s kitchen is what Clyde describes as “a robbery to-do list,” the idea being to steal a cornucopia of cash from the Charlotte Motor Speedway, in Concord, North Carolina—or, more precisely, to suck the cash from a vault beneath the track, through a network of tubes. The boys enlist the aid of a safe-blower named Joe Bang (Daniel Craig), the only hitch being that he’s in jail. No problem. Clyde gets himself arrested, by driving briskly through the window of a store, and thrown into the same prison. He and Joe must break out for the day, hook up with Jimmy, pull off the theft, and break back in without being missed. All of which sounds wacky enough, but is it simpleminded?
That question meanders through “Logan Lucky.” What we have here is a filmmaker of proven liberal credentials (a few years ago, he made a two-part, four-and-a-half-hour bio-pic of Che Guevara) addressing himself to a patch of America where those credentials don’t mean jack. Such is the merriment of the new movie, and so spirited is its pace, that you barely notice the wavering of the tone. On the one hand, Soderbergh and his screenwriter, Rebecca Blunt, set up various characters as ninepins—folks like Joe’s brothers, Fish and Sam, played so broadly by Jack Quaid and Brian Gleeson, and with such raw redneckery, that they’re begging to be knocked down. Roll up, the movie cries, watch the hicks toss toilet seats instead of horseshoes! Listen to them mangle the lingo of the modern age! (“All the Twitters, I know ’em.” “I looked it up on the Google.”) Soderbergh reinforces this overkill with leering closeups; we’re crotch-side with Joe as he does pushups in his cell, and Clyde slides a cocktail so near to the lens that he might as well be offering the cameraman a swig.
On the other hand, check out race day—which, wouldn’t you know it, happens to be heist day, too. Some of the speedway footage was shot live during the Coca-Cola 600, one of the premier Nascar events of the year, and Soderbergh doesn’t just give us the hullabaloo that surrounds it. He gives it to us straight. As LeAnn Rimes sings “America the Beautiful” and fighter jets fly in formation above, all the spectators (barring Joe Bang, who needs to stay incognito) bare their heads, and you can feel the film following suit, as you can when Sadie, shimmering with hairspray and fake tan, carols a John Denver song at a beauty pageant, with her audience crooning along. What Soderbergh implies at such moments is that for countless Americans this is the life, and that you mock it at your peril. And yet, elsewhere, the movie points and snorts. When historians come to tell the tale of the Trumpian epoch, and of confused cultural attitudes toward the heartland, “Logan Lucky” will be part of the evidence.
Then again, many people will leave the cinema with nothing more profound—or more enjoyable—than the image of Daniel Craig, adorned with a garish blond buzz cut that makes his blue eyes madder than ever. In jail, he wears a traditional inmate’s uniform, with black and white stripes. Asked by Clyde and Jimmy how it’s going when they pay a visit, Joe replies, “I’m sitting on the other side of the table wearing a onesie. How d’you think it’s going?” The laugh that met this line when I saw the movie seemed to unlock its good cheer, and so liberated does Craig appear, on a hollering vacation from his stern-visaged duties as James Bond, that his mood exalts the whole enterprise. “I’m about to get nekkid,” Joe says, sprawled on the rear seat of a Mustang V-8, and he takes great joy in cooking up explosives from gummy bears and bleach. Soderbergh refuses to get wonkish about the crime; he drops in a few rum details—for what possible purpose, you wonder, is Mellie painting live cockroaches with nail polish?—and stands back, as if to say, Let the games begin.
Once they’re done, we get a late twist that I failed to understand, plus some wary sleuthing from an F.B.I. agent (Hilary Swank). Neither addition is necessary, but, then, “Logan Lucky” delights in superfluities; it’s more about the trimmings than the meat. Not all of them succeed. Seth MacFarlane isn’t much funnier or more believable as a British racing driver than Don Cheadle was as a British thief in the “Ocean’s” saga; whatever strange fixation Soderbergh has on Cockneys, or fake Cockneys, should be laid to rest. But Katherine Waterston does wonders with a brief role as Sylvia, a woman who went to high school with Jimmy and wound up as a medic. In a few minutes, she gives you a hint of the startling ways in which lives can peel apart and come together again, and she sets Jimmy thinking. He and Clyde used to fear a Logan family curse, but their exploits here—not the plunder alone but the patent elixir of hope, savvy, and silliness—break the spell.
If you are feeling especially dumb, or hungover, steer clear of “Marjorie Prime.” Michael Almereyda’s film is so subtly smart, and veiled in such layers of suggestion, that you need to be on your toes from the beginning.
In a beautiful house by the sea, an elderly woman, Marjorie (Lois Smith), talks to a more youthful man, named Walter (Jon Hamm). He sits erect on the couch, unflappable and neatly groomed, like Don Draper crossed with a robot; there’s something not quite right about him, and it’s only at the end of the scene that the something becomes clear. As Marjorie brushes past him, she walks through his shoes as if they weren’t there at all. And they’re not. Walter is a Prime—a computer program, providing a 3-D facsimile of a deceased person. In this case, the true Walter was Marjorie’s late husband, and she has chosen to have him return as an earlier self, thus setting an immediate moral test: if you could summon up those you have loved and lost, at what stage would you capture them? In their heyday? Or as they were in yours?
Almereyda’s movie, adapted from a stage play by Jordan Harrison, is technically science fiction, picking through the thorny issues of identity that grew in “Blade Runner,” yet it looks only lightly futuristic. We never find out how you order a Prime, or whether it’s just the well-to-do who can afford one; will the poor continue to mourn as before? At one point, we gather that Marjorie herself must have passed away, because it’s a reboot of her—not younger, but more kempt—who chats with her daughter, the sorrowful Tess (Geena Davis), politely asking for details of the departed Marjorie, so as to become a more accurate copy. (“I’m vain?” “A little.” “That’s helpful.”) Then we have Tess’s husband, Jon (Tim Robbins), fond of his Scotch; we wonder whether he, in turn, will bring forth a substitute Tess, once she is no more, and whether, like all the humans in the movie, he will be tempted to arrange for an improved or happier model. “Marjorie Prime” could use a trim, as some of the exchanges linger too long, but Mica Levi, who worked on “Under the Skin” (2013) and “Jackie” (2016), contributes another searching score, and the film, with its coastal haze and its fickle gusts of rain, is likely to lodge in your memory. Or, as it will soon be called, your hard drive. ♦
This article appears in other versions of the August 28, 2017, issue, with the headline “Happy Returns.”