Hail, Caesar! *1/2

The Coen Bros. are hit and miss with their comedies, and this is a total miss.

Is it worth $10? No

The Coen Bros. are smarter than this, and better filmmakers than this. They no doubt thought it a cute idea to send up old Hollywood in “Hail, Caesar!” by paying homage to classic movies, but none of it works. Forget about laugh-out-loud funny, I would’ve settled for at least a few ha-has. Is this really the same Joel and Ethan Coen who made “The Big Lebowski,” “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” and “Fargo”?

Somehow, it is. The central conceit of “Hail, Caesar!,” which is set in the early 1950s, finds movie studio boss Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin) trying to find star Baird Whitlock (George Clooney) after Baird is kidnapped. There’s one production day left on Baird’s big budget epic film “Hail Caesar: A Tale of Christ,” and he still needs to shoot his big speech. Communists took him, we learn, and subsequently try to brainwash Baird into accepting their beliefs as his own. If the writer/director Coen Bros. are aiming for sociopolitical commentary on the iniquities of labor laws and fair pay in our modern times, the points fail to connect. But it’s hard to tell if they’re actually trying for that because it doesn’t seem like they’re trying at all for any of it. 

Because the Coen Bros. have the ability to attract more star power than anyone not named Scorsese, cameos abound. What’s more, they manifest in a series of homages to classic Hollywood movies that are so lazily, unimpressively done they make you yearn for the authenticity of legendary choreographer Busby Berkeley and singer/dancer Gene Kelly, among others.

The women are throwaway comic relief who do not connect at all to the main story. Scarlett Johansson plays a starlet in a lame Berkeley-esque dance routine with synchronized swimming and waterfalls, none of which comes close to matching the grandeur and spectacle of Berkeley’s work. Tilda Swinton plays Thora and Thessaly Thacker, twins and rival gossip columnists in the alliterative mold of Hedda Hopper. Like Johansson, Swinton’s characters also serve no essential narrative function. These actresses are so much better than this.

Cameos and homages continue with Ralph Fiennes as a Laurence Olivier-esque director trying to coax a performance out of a dimwit actor (Alden Ehrenreich) in a scene that runs far too long, and finally there’s Channing Tatum as a sailor singing and tap dancing in a bar, a la Gene Kelly. The Tatum sequence is the best of the bunch, but it lacks the energy, extravagance and charisma of Kelly’s work, and without capturing the proper spirit the sequence misses. The male characters provide subplots that loosely (barely) tie in to the main plot, so the movie ends up feeling like a series of sketches rather than a fully conceptualized story.

The production values and costumes appropriately feel ‘50s Hollywood, and the great cinematographer Roger Deakins soaks the daytime scenes in sunshine to convey a surreal mood. However, looking the part is one thing – actually playing it well is another, and “Hail, Caesar!” plays it horribly.  

Did you know?
Brolin’s Mannix is inspired by an MGM executive from the 1930s through ‘50s. The real Mannix was a “fixer” who made problems go away, though reports suggest his life and reputation were much darker than the fiction provided by the Coen Bros. here. Source:

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