Crack­ing up at Coen brothers

Rutherglen Reformer - - The Ticket -

Fol­low­ing a pe­riod of more se­ri­ous, dra­matic fare, it’s back to the comfy sur­round­ings of screw­ball com­edy for the Coen brothers.

Only once since the mis­fire of 2004’s Ladykillers re­make have the duo re­turned to the genre – for the fun-but-flawed Burn Af­ter Read­ing six years ago.

And it’s no co­in­ci­dence their com­edy re­nais­sance marks their fifth col­lab­o­ra­tion with Ge­orge Clooney, whose pre­vi­ous turns for the di­rect­ing sib­lings have all at least tick­led the fun­ny­bone.

Set in the 1950s, Hail, Cae­sar! sees Clooney play movie star Baird Whit­lock, who dis­ap­pears while film­ing pres­tige pic­ture Tale Of Christ’s Life for stu­dio Capi­tol Pic­tures, with fixer Ed­die Man­nix ( Josh Brolin) tasked with find­ing him.

The Coens once again wrote the script on top of di­rect­ing, and they’ve tapped into some of their back cat­a­logue for a real great­est hits pa­rade.

They’ve al­ready tar­geted the Hol­ly­wood stu­dio sys­tem in Bar­ton Fink, roughed up Clooney in O Brother, Where Art Thou? and the grandiose, MGM-style mu­si­cal num­bers are more than a lit­tle rem­i­nis­cent of the dream se­quence in The Big Lebowski.

But it’s a tes­ta­ment to the brothers’ skills be­hind the cam­era and with the writ­ten word – and the A-list ac­tors they have on speed dial – that Hail, Cae­sar! is still a ri­otously en­ter­tain­ing ride in its own right.

The film-within-a-film struc­ture gives the Coens carte blanche to let rip with some stun­ning song and dance rou­tines and the movie has such an en­chant­ing glow it nearly leaves view­ers need­ing sun­glasses to sit through it.

Clooney has been front and cen­tre for the mar­ket­ing of Hail, Cae­sar! and lit­tle won­der – he is one of the most recog­nis­able faces on the planet – but it’s Brolin who is the real star of the show.

Af­ter be­ing out­shone by Javier Bar­dem in No Coun­try for Old Men, Brolin doesn’t al­low for any sloppy sec­onds this time around as he reg­is­ters as one of the Coens’ most well­rounded lead­ing men yet.

Clooney apes his true-life per­sona and clearly en­joys do­ing so, Scar­lett Jo­hans­son doesn’t let even a me­chan­i­cal whale steal her spot­light and Chan­ning Ta­tum makes for a mean tap dancer.

Ev­ery­where you turn there’s star wattage – Ralph Fi­ennes, Tilda Swin­ton, Jonah Hill, reg­u­lar Coens go-to-girl Frances McDor­mand – and the of­ten hi­lar­i­ous gags and in-jokes dis­tract from the fact the plot is sparse.

Not even th­ese qual­i­ties can mask the rather un­der­whelm­ing cli­max, though. It’s al­most as if the Coens have thrown ev­ery­thing into the cor­nu­copia of char­ac­ter set-up and golden era Hol­ly­wood homages, but ran out of en­ergy to fin­ish things off on a high.

Hail, Cae­sar! may not be quite vin­tage Coens but you’ll still have a whale of a time watch­ing it.

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