A tone-deaf mis­fire from Clooney, the Coen brothers

Sun Sentinel Palm Beach Edition - Showtime - Palm Beach - - MOVIES - By Katie Walsh

The tal­ent in front of and be­hind the cam­era for Ge­orge Clooney’s lat­est di­rec­to­rial ef­fort, the 1950s satire “Suburbicon,” has ac­cu­mu­lated heaps of Os­car gold. But tal­ented, award-win­ning film­mak­ers can get it to­tally, em­bar­rass­ingly wrong some­times. There’s no other way to say it — this movie stinks. It is ir­ri­tat­ing, fauxedgy, strained, un­funny and a colos­sally tone-deaf mis­fire.

Clooney en­lists Ju­lianne Moore to trot out her tired Step­ford wife rou­tine, while Matt Da­mon phones in another it­er­a­tion of his doo­fus char­ac­ter. But both of their per­for­mances just make us think of times when they’ve done this be­fore, only bet­ter.

“Suburbicon” is a grotesque Franken­stein’s mon­ster stitched to­gether from parts of “Pleas­antville,” “Fargo,” “Far From Heaven” and “The In­for­mant!,” which are all great films, but this mean­ing­less pas­tiche has no idea what it wants to say. Open­ing with an ad­ver­tise­ment for a cookie-cut­ter Le­vit­town-style sub­urb called Suburbicon, we plunge into this world of big hair, big skirts, per­fect lawns and nu­clear fam­i­lies. It’s pic­ture-per­fec­tion with di­ver­sity by way of white fam­i­lies from Ohio and Mis­sis­sippi. But there’s dark­ness un­der­neath all that same­ness.

“Suburbicon” fun­da­men­tally fails in ask­ing its au­di­ence to do two wildly dif­fer­ent things at the same time. We’re to laugh at a satir­i­cal fam­ily mur­der in­surance scam, but we’re also sup­posed to feel sad and solemn about the evils of racism. But you can’t mix ni­hilism and earnest­ness. It just doesn’t work. MPAA rat­ing: R (for vi­o­lence, lan­guage and some sex­u­al­ity) Run­ning time: 1:45 Opens: Fri­day

Bloody high jinks en­sue in half of this movie. Rose (Moore), the wife of square busi­ness­man Gard­ner Lodge (Da­mon), is mur­dered in a ter­ri­fy­ing home in­va­sion. Her twin sis­ter, Mag­gie (also Moore), moves in to care for their son, Nicky (Noah Jupe), but the re­la­tion­ship be­tween his dad and aunt in­stantly seems fishy to the boy, and things spi­ral out of con­trol for Gard­ner.

This ab­sur­dist, vi­o­lent tale is clas­sic Coen Brothers. They orig­i­nally wrote the script, and their voice is ob­vi­ous. Clooney and his writ­ing/pro­duc­ing part­ner Grant Heslov also took a pass, and it’s clear that the film­maker who ex­cels at straight­for­ward, po­lit­i­cally en­gaged ef­forts like “Good Night and Good Luck,” couldn’t re­sist shoe­horn­ing in some so­cial com­men­tary about the toxic hege­mony of Suburbicon.

Con­cur­rent to the slow fam­ily an­ni­hi­la­tion, we wit­ness the plight of the Mey­ers fam­ily, the first African-Amer­i­can res­i­dents in Suburbicon, who are tor­mented day and night by a racist mob of their neigh­bors. What is the point of this gross sub­plot? It’s a con­de­scend­ing, crit­i­cally un­in­ter­ro­gated take on old-timey racism — are we to feel bet­ter that racism is more nu­anced and cam­ou­flaged now? Mr. Mey­ers doesn’t even get a sin­gle line. He’s com­pletely voice­less, and we watch this fam­ily silently en­dure this bur­den for some fu­tile rea­son.

There are a cou­ple of bright spots: Os­car Isaac brings the en­ergy up as a skep­ti­cal in­surance agent, while Jupe brings the heart and soul. There are mo­ments where it seems they might have told the whole bloody tale from Nicky’s per­spec­tive, which would have been in­ter­est­ing, but that’s aban­doned.

Ul­ti­mately “Suburbicon” is woe­fully un­der­writ­ten. Gard­ner and Mag­gie are mere sketches, a set of fa­cial tics and ac­ces­sories mas­querad­ing as real char­ac­ters. The racism story is so broad it’s es­sen­tially mean­ing­less, and there are even some glar­ing con­ti­nu­ity er­rors. “Suburbicon” is a shoddy, shame­ful show­ing, de­spite pres­ti­gious ori­gins.


Ju­lianne Moore plays a Step­ford wife in “Suburbicon.”

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