What NASCAR has to say about Atlanta-filmed “Logan Lucky”

At first it seems like just about the only absolutely believable elements in “Logan Lucky,” in theaters now, are Dwight Yoakam’s Southern accent and hideous suits. He plays a sniveling prison warden to perfection.

After that, you gotta suspend a lot of disbelief.

With its breezy slew of implausibilities and quirky vibe, the movie, largely filmed in Atlanta and starring Channing Tatum, Adam Driver, Riley Keough, Hilary Swank, Seth MacFarlane, Katie Holmes and Daniel Craig, feels like “Ocean’s Eleven” meets “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” with a little “Dukes of Hazzard” seasoning for good measure.

A one-armed bartender casually beats people up and torches their car without any real reprisals. A doofus hillbilly too dumb to get his “Dangerous” tattoo spelled right flawlessly pulls off his key part of a complex robbery scheme. And, most germane to the plot line, NASCAR is super loosey-goosey when it comes to handling hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash on a big race day, leaves doors unlocked all over Charlotte Motor Speedway and musters only a dim interest when it seems like the place might be on fire.

“Part of the reason why we liked this story is it was fantastical,” said Zane Stoddard,‎ NASCAR’s vice president for entertainment marketing. “It wasn’t entirely believable.”

That doesn’t keep it from being a lot of fun.

“Logan Lucky” involves two good ole boys, never meanin’ no harm, (and whose smoking-hot sister, played by Riley Keough, literally wears Daisy Dukes) who decide to risk getting in trouble with the law.

Tatum stars as Jimmy Logan, a kind-hearted divorced dad run off his construction job for having a limp (Hello, Americans with Disabilities Act? We digress..).

Broke and dispirited, Jimmy enlists his brother Clyde, played by Adam Driver, to help him knock over NASCAR. Since his former job involved working in the tunnels under the speedway, he’s totally figured out how to get in and game the system. Clyde came home from Iraq and now uses a clunky prosthetic arm, but he seems like a good addition to a heist crew doing pretty physical work.

But first the brothers need to bust Joe Bang (Daniel Craig) out of prison long enough to enlist his legendary pyrotechnic skills to work, then bust him back in. This actually clicks together more seamlessly than Craig’s Southern accent. The road from his usual James Bond suave to Joe Bang’s twang is a long one with lots of hairpin curves. At one point he sort of starts to sound like Joe Pesci.

And yet by the time a little girl sings “Country Roads” during a pivotal scene (“Almost heaven, West Virginia, Blue Ridge Mountains, Shenandoah River...”) dern if you don’t start to tear up a little with genuine emotion.

The race scenes, too, are pretty spot-on, and a few drivers pop up in cameos or bit roles. Ryan Blaney plays a delivery guy who shows up with a cake that the robbery crew just knows will end up in a bank vault at the exact moment a lady’s car is rear-ended and that this will eventually enable palmetto bugs that have been painted with nail polish to help them pull off the big NASCAR caper. (Sorry, we digress again).

Blaney thought the movie was hilarious and got the race scenes just right.

“I’m always interested in what all goes into production,” he said. “It was neat to see that first-hand.”

His scene takes less than a minute but took half an hour to film. He saw parallels between the complexity of the film set and, say, a pit crew.

“Kind of like what we do, a lot more goes into (filmmaking) than what people think,” he said.

The movie was directed by Steven Soderbergh and written by Rebecca Blunt, a West Virginia native who was inspired by Tatum’s own story to craft the character of Jimmy. Positive reviews have been roaring in.

“The beauty of the movie is giving us characters to root for — and against — but no one to hate,” the Minneapolis Star-Tribune wrote.

After seeing “Logan Lucky,” lots of fans are going to want to see a race in person, which NASCAR would love.

“We are interested in stories that are going to appeal to a broad audience,” Stoddard said. In order to do that we have to find projects that are going to be broadly appealing and become a portal into our sport.”

Just to be absolutely clear, though: NASCAR’s safety procedures are air tight. Their security personnel are dedicated and diligent. Dollar bills don’t fly around willy nilly and land in a giant pit on race day.

“No, of course not,” Stoddard chuckled. “Steven Soderbergh would like you to believe that. he’s a funny guy.”

And “Logan Lucky” is a funny movie.

 

 

 

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