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September 8, 2003  

Thursday September 4 2003 11:44 IST

Clooney, Zeta-Jones spark frenzy in Venice


British actress Catherine Zeta-Jones blows a kiss as she arrives at the Venice Movie Palace on Wednesday. Reuters

VENICE: Hollywood celebrities George Clooney and Catherine Zeta-Jones whipped up a frenzy in Venice on Wednesday as the Coen brothers' new screwball romantic comedy Intolerable Cruelty premiered at the film festival.

Girls screamed and paparazzi jostled for position as the stars pulled up in an elegant wooden boat to promote the new film about a Beverly Hills battle of the sexes. Zeta-Jones dazzled in a fluttery, ultra-feminine black dress, but Clooney was the main attraction.

"Georgeous Clooney!" the headline of one film magazine said, while an Italian comedienne interrupted a press conference on the Lido to ask for the 42-year-old actor's hand in marriage.

Joel and Ethan Coen rushed their latest picture to the 60th Venice Film Festival, where it is being screened as a "work in progress," since a couple of extra shots will be added to the film before its commercial release.

Clooney portrays Miles Massey, a highly successful Los Angeles divorce attorney who finally meets his match in professional husband hunter Marylin, played by Zeta-Jones. And yet, as the two battle it out in the divorce courts they find they cannot help being attracted to each other.

"I didn't want Marylin to be that deliciously bitchy because I wanted people to like her," said Zeta-Jones, who won an Oscar for her recent performance in the gangster musical "Chicago."

"She's the eye of the storm or a tornado, unaware of what chaos she can create," said the Welsh actress, who in real life is married to actor Michael Douglas.

Geoffrey Rush and Billy Bob Thornton also make hilarious appearances in the film, which kept critics howling at a preview screening Tuesday night.

"You can't really underplay the characters, there's nothing subtle about a Joel and Ethan script," said Clooney, who has worked with the critically acclaimed filmmakers before in "O Brother, Where Art Thou?"

With his rugged good looks and charming smile, the Hollywood heart throb is better known for his pictures like "Ocean's Eleven" and the TV series "ER."

Although "Intolerable Cruelty" has a malicious side, it marks a shift from some of the Coen brothers' darker works like "Fargo" and "Barton Fink," prompting critics to ask if they were going mainstream.

"Intolerable Cruelty" is showing out of competition at the world's oldest film festival. Twenty pictures are facing off for the Golden Lion, which will be awarded Saturday.

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