Coens throw fine screwball
|Catherine Zeta-Jones and George Clooney in Universal's "Intolerable Cruelty" (Universal)
(PG-13: sex, language and brief violence)
Starring: George Clooney, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Geoffrey Rush,
Cedric the Entertainer, Billy Bob Thornton, Paul Adelstein.
Director: Joel Coen.
Running time: 1 hr. 41 min.
Playing: Wide release.
In a nutshell: The Coen brothers find yet another genre - this
time it's a screwball comedy - they can master.
For anyone who thinks that Joel and Ethan Coen have sold out just
because they've made a movie with mainstream producer Brian Grazer, get
over it. The Coens' latest, "Intolerable Cruelty,' is silly, acidic and
very funny, and while it's not as idiosyncratically weird as, say,
"Fargo' or "The Big Lebowski,' it does crackle and pop in a way that
calls to mind the best banter in Howard Hawks' "His Girl Friday.'
Nobody, save for maybe a nearsighted Coen purist, will be disappointed.
"Intolerable Cruelty' is, in fact, further proof that the Coens can
take any genre -- in this case, a star-driven screwball comedy -- and make it
work without sacrificing their unique sensibility in the process. And
following their collaboration in "O Brother, Where Art Thou?' this film
confirms that George Clooney not only gets that sensibility but can enliven
it with deeply satisfying results.
Clooney plays Miles Massey, a slick, successful Los Angeles divorce
attorney specializing in winning favorable settlements for even the most
unworthy of clients. While defending one louse, he meets the (possibly)
wronged wife, Marilyn (Catherine Zeta-Jones) and is captivated -- but not
enough to keep him from doing her wrong during the divorce proceedings. But
the wily Marilyn isn't one to suffer a setback smiling, so she finds a new
sugar daddy (Billy Bob Thornton in a great supporting turn) and enlists
Miles to draw up the prenuptial agreement, even though -- in theory -- such a
contract would work against her.
This sets into motion a series of twists and turns and opportunities for
Clooney and Zeta-Jones to exchange rapid-fire ribbing, while sending up
their own glamorous images. Not everything works perfectly; Marilyn is more
of a plot device than an actual character, but Zeta-Jones, in a great
comedic role, is game and, besides, she looks great in that red dress.
Like most Coen comedies, there are plenty of zany, inventive situations
(one involving an asthmatic hit man named Wheezy Joe (Irwin Keyes) provides
one of the best gags of this -- or any -- year) and wonderfully drawn
supporting characters. The latter crowd includes a pony-tailed Geoffrey
Rush in a delightful caricature of Hollywood vanity, Cedric the Entertainer
as a zealous private detective and Paul Adelstein, perfect as Miles'
faithful -- and sometimes overemotional -- sidekick. Adelstein is so darn
likable, one can only hope the Coens will cast him again someday.
But then, that will depend on Adelstein's versatility, since the Coens --
who have just finished shooting a remake of "The Ladykillers,' keep
hopping between genres. Watching them defy the odds continues to be one of
the great pleasures of going to the movies.
Glenn Whipp, (818) 713-3672 email@example.com