Starring Josh Brolin, Alden Ehrenreich, George Clooney, Tilda Swinton, Channing Tatum, Scarlett Johansson, Ralph Fiennes, Jonah Hill
The Coen Brothers latest film, “Hail, Caesar” is a really good B-movie. It’s always been hit and miss with the Oscar winning duo (“No Country For Old Men”), known for their work in writing as much as directing. You look at their filmography and it’s literally as if someone turns the light switch on and off with their success. “Hail, Caesar” has some genuinely funny moments but they don’t come from the big name stars on the poster like Clooney, Tatum or Johansson, they come from Joel Coen’s wife Frances McDormand in a cameo and the real star of the show Alden Ehrenreich (“Blue Jasmine”, “Beautiful Creatures”). Coen Brothers rarely appeal to mainstream audiences and this Hollywood yesteryear comedy certainly caters to the higher brow viewer.
Despite the daily problems of a typical Hollywood studio manager, Eddie Mannix (Brolin) has just received a ransom note for Baird Whitlock (Clooney), one of Capitol Studios biggest stars. Plagued with production problems down south, a western actor thrust into an art film, the press getting wind of a scandal, add his own personal problems which include a job offers outside Hollywood; Mannix is having a rough day. It’s communists who captured Whitlock from the set of Hail Caesar, just before he was to shoot the climactic scene with Christ. Young Hobie Doyle (Ehrenreich) might have just ridden in on a horse, but his trust worthy persona might just be the answer to saving Mannix’s troubled day.
For every funny and witty scene in “Hail, Caesar” there is an equally mundane and lackluster one.
The Coen’s structure this film similar to David O. Russell’s manic “I Heart Huckabees”.Organized chaos thrusts the audience from one sound stage to another, non-stop meetings, and rarely a quest moment as our studio manager navigates an ocean of exhaustion. Celebrity faces like Tatum (“Magic Mike”) and Hill (“21 Jump Street”) are intended to draw in a younger crowd, but their parts are basically glorified cameos. One of two scenes that have broad comical appeal occurs when lofty European director Laurence Lorenz (Fiennes) tries to help backwoods ranch rider turned movie star Hobie Doyle speak proper English. It’s a gag that the Coen’s ensure pays off throughout the film. What doesn’t pay off is every scene with Clooney, it’s not particularly anything with his performance, just the least interesting aspect of the story.
For every funny and witty scene in “Hail, Caesar” there is an equally mundane and lackluster one. Despite the talent of Oscar winners like Tilda Swinton (“The Grand Budapest Hotel”), playing dual roles I might add, her role as a gossip columnist competing with her sister falls flat on both occasions. Viewers who bring a knowledge of the classic studio system operations and understand the purpose of the inside jokes will have a better time with this “cute” film. Opening a Coen film in February is already indicative of its lack in artistic weight, but it’s still probably the best 2016 film playing in theaters so far in the New Year.
Coen Brothers lite, Ehrenreich worth price of admission.