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At 10 p.m. Relatives of an escaped murderer in react to his arrest.

Review: 'Cruelty' Is Star Vehicle For Clooney

Movie Script Sat On Shelf For Eight Years

POSTED: 1:33 p.m. EDT October 9, 2003

'Intolerable Cruelty' (PG-13) Popcorn rating Popcorn ratingPopcorn ratingHalf Popcorn Rating (out of four popcorns)

The script for "Intolerable Cruelty" sat untouched for eight years. It had been a writing project for screenwriters Ethan and Joel Coen for Universal Pictures. And then George Clooney came along.

Although it wasn't written for Clooney, it appears that the character was just what he had been looking for. Miles Massey is a slick Beverly Hills divorce attorney who has everything. Actually, he has two of everything.

Clooney, who obviously had some say so in who his co-starring leading lady would be, believed that Marilyn Rexroth, the beautiful, but crafty golddigger, should reflect a modern-day Rosalind Russell or Katharine Hepburn. That someone was Catherine Zeta-Jones.

There are colorful characters in "Intolerable Cruelty," probably one of the most mainstream offerings by the usual off-kilter writing-directing team of Coen and Coen, the brothers responsible for "Fargo," "Barton Fink" and the other Clooney vehicle "O, Brother Where Art Thou?"

"Intolerable Cruelty" is a dark comedy and a sophisticated send-up of a culture somewhat foreign, but also accessible to mainstream America. Massey, whose one obvious obsession is having Hollywood white teeth, is a divorce lawyer who doesn't even need to read the briefs before he enters the courtroom. He's the guy with the trick up his sleeve and who has gained a reputation for his iron clad "Massey pre-nup," which is virtually impossible to crack.

Rexroth has her own tricks including "eating men like (Massey) for breakfast."

When the two meet after Rexroth's husband, who has an obsession with choo-choo trains, is found playing conductor to a bubble-headed blonde's locomotive, there's a connection, but in true Coen brothers form, the audience doesn't know if the connection has a true meaning or if both Atty. Massey and Mrs. Rexroth are jockeying for position.

Clooney and Zeta-Jones light up the screen with star power. Their battle of the sexes is reminiscent of vintage screen couples like Tracy and Hepburn and Gable and Lombard. Clooney has crossed the threshold with this film into leading man status and Zeta-Jones in her first post-Oscar role is a formidable match.

Billy Bob Thornton never looked so good as the non-stop chatterer and wealthy Texas oil heir Howard Doyle. And Cedric The Entertainer is in his typical rare form as a risk-taking detective who is willing to take a risk for the right cash and to nail someone's behind against the wall, although his character, Gus Petch, is a little more descriptive than is allowed in print. Geoffrey Rush pops up now and again as a Aussie television producer who discovers his wife gets visits from the poolman. Trouble is, the couple do not own a pool.

While the film carries a PG-13 rating, there isn't much here for the under 30 set. Baby boomers and above will relate to this adult tale of marital infidelity, fear of aging, social climbing and clawing. Younger audiences would find the rigorous wordplay boring.

The fast-paced comedy shows that sometimes two directors are better than one.

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