Hail, Caesar!,
directed by Joel & Ethan Coen
(Universal, 2016)

Hail, Caesar! is a pastiche to old Hollywood, a celebration of the Golden Age of cinema. It's a showcase to some of today's best crop of actors, young and old, and an introduction to some new faces with seeming potential. Maybe it's a religious allegory.

Unfortunately, it's primarily an assortment of seemingly unrelated scenes from the fictional Capitol Pictures in early 1950s Tinseltown, where a major star has gone missing, a studio fixer is pondering a job with Lockheed, a cabal of screenwriters are dabbling in communism, an actress hopes to conceal her pregnancy so she can adopt her own child, and a cowboy, forced by the studio into playing a more dramatic role, just wants to go on a nice date with a dancer.

None of it really makes sense when you look at the big picture. I can't fault the acting, which for the most part is pretty good. Taken individually, some of the scenes are quite clever and well crafted. But the story goes nowhere and eventually falls apart from its own inertia.

Although Hail, Caesar! was marketed as a screwball comedy, it's not. Although it looks in trailers like a riotous film about a studio that uses its actors to track down the kidnappers of its biggest star, it isn't. Although it looks from promotional materials like you'll laugh a lot, you won't.

So, kudos to the cast for struggling through this one, which couldn't have been easy. We're used to better from the Coen brothers. But, uneven direction and aimless plotting aside, look for good performances by Josh Brolin, Alden Ehrenreich, Ralph Fiennes, Scarlett Johansson, Veronica Osorio, Tilda Swinton and Channing Tatum. Michael Gambon provides gravitas as the narrator.

George Clooney, who spends less time on screen than you'd expect -- and all of it in the short-skirted garb of a Roman officer -- looks like maybe he figured out early that this film wasn't worth his full attention. (Oh, and Jonah Hill is fine with what he's given, but somehow he squeezed top billing out of about three minutes of screen time.)

While writing this review, I went back and watched the trailer that first made me want to see this film. The trailer made me laugh more in just over two minutes than the movie did in nearly two hours. That's kind of sad.

review by
Tom Knapp

21 January 2017

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