A modern proverb tells us traditional movie stars no longer exist, meaning glitzy luminaries who drive box-office business and stoke intrigue on name (and beauty) alone. In the 2010s, franchises draw audiences instead. But that notion discounts another qualification: a gifted performer’s je ne sais quoi ― call it charisma, call it witchcraft ― that lights up the screen, no matter how many patrons clamor to buy tickets. For exactly that, look no further than “Logan Lucky,” which boasts not one, not two, but three of today’s most magnetic actors.
I’m talking about Channing Tatum, Adam Driver and Riley Keough.
They play the Logan siblings, three Southern hams who hatch a plan to rob the Charlotte Motor Speedway in North Carolina during one of NASCAR’s busiest races. It’s tempting to call them rednecks ― Jimmy (Tatum), Clyde (Driver) and Mellie (Keough) are from West Virginia, and they’re not without their blue-collar stereotypes ― but “Logan Lucky” treats these bumpkins with much dignity. As they’ve proven time and again, Tatum, Driver and Keough know exactly how to enunciate their characters’ most obvious traits without becoming caricatures.
A single father living in a shack, Jimmy is a construction worker who gets laid off after a human-resources suit (Jim O’Heir) spots him walking with a limp and decides he’s a liability. It’s hard to find a job out there, and when Jimmy’s ex (Katie Holmes) reveals her plans to move away with their young daughter (Farrah McKenzie), he recruits Clyde, a shaggy-haired veteran who lost an arm in Iraq and now bartends at the local watering hole, to hijack the speedway’s underground lair, where pneumatic tubes filter cash into a bank vault. Of course, the brothers need a getaway driver and voice of reason, so Mellie, a long-nailed cosmetologist at Hair We R, steps up.
Jimmy, Clyde and Mellie are characters for our current day ― their financial burdens reflect the sort of middle-class woes that fuel political divides. But Steven Soderbergh, the “Ocean’s 11” and “Erin Brockovich” director who is making his post-retirement return, is interested in more than a heist saga about Trump territory. He’s invested in the Logans as enterprising individuals, and in “Logan Lucky” as a fun summer jaunt. Unlike the “Ocean’s” marauders, this trio isn’t out for criminalistic thrills. There’s glamour ― or an attempt at it ― in the beauty pageants they attend, but not in the NASCAR track they plunder. There’s only loyalty to one another and hope for a financially secure tomorrow.
“Logan Lucky” lets Tatum, Driver and Keough convey the qualities that made them stars. Jimmy is a camouflage-clad muscle stud, but Tatum makes a love story out of the sensitivity that Jimmy exhibits around his daughter. Clyde is no-frills, but he can mix a mean martini with only one hand. Driver’s blank expression is worth a thousand comedy points. Without Mellie’s cool composure and know-how, the brothers’ plan to sneak a seasoned swindler (Daniel Craig) out of jail would turn to mud. Keough carries herself with a straight-shooting tenacity that reveals Mellie’s smarts. Their characters’ drawls can seem dim-witted, but that’s its own red herring: Complacency with the small-town monotony that popular culture often ridicules should not be mistaken for miseducation.
Tatum, Driver and Keough are the perfect team because together they enhance their characters’ muted energy. These aren’t the sort of performances that bulldoze you with bravura ― they’re the achievements of established screen stars leaning into their careers’ hallmarks with winking confidence. Tatum was supposed to be a cheesy blockbuster bro, but then he brought depth to “Magic Mike” and broke course with “Foxcatcher.” Driver was the arty Juilliard grad whose breakout on “Girls” should have left casting directors unsure what to do with him; instead, he got to be the new “Star Wars” baddie and a certifiable leading man in “Paterson.” Keough could coast as Elvis’ good-looking granddaughter, but you try commanding Shia LaBeouf to lotion you up with half the ferocity of her “American Honey” performance. In their hands, Jimmy, Clyde and Mellie are more than their careers or economic stature ― they are gravitational forces around which Soderbergh’s camera orbits. They can squeeze a laugh out of almost any line.
Plenty of contemporary movie stars ― whatever that term means these days ― can hold the screen. But in many ensemble projects, actors exist as islands; the end result notches a couple of good performances and a lot of OK ones. Not in “Logan Lucky.” Even as the overlong climax sputters to its finish line, Tatum, Driver and Keough remain perfectly simpatico. They’re the real deal.
“Logan Lucky” opens in theaters Aug. 18.