Cruel joke for Coen brothers fans
‘Intolerable Cruelty’ may not win over hardcore Coen fans, but it’s certainly tolerable
By Jack Garner
Gannett News Service
October 10, 2003
Anyone who knows movies and stumbles into "Fargo" or "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" instantly knows he’s watching a Coen brothers movie. Their work is that distinctive, oddly flavorful and utterly original.
Step into "Intolerable Cruelty" and you’ll just assume it’s a more conventional filmmaker who just happens to be influenced by the Coen brothers. But, in truth, the new George Clooney/Catherine Zeta-Jones romantic comedy is the latest from Joel and Ethan Coen. So I guess we’ll have to call it Coen lite.
The key apparently lies in the source of the script -- the writers behind "Big Trouble" and Eddie Murphy’s "Life." Talent aside, they’re not Joel and Ethan Coen. Making this the first film ever made by the brothers that they didn’t write. (Thank goodness, they did a rewrite, which accounts for the few welcome eccentricities that do surface.)
That’s not to say "Intolerable Cruelty" is bad. The laughs come intermittently in this tale of divorce lawyers versus serial divorcees, and the sexy chemistry between Clooney and Zeta-Jones is highly combustible.
Clooney is Miles Massey, a famed divorce attorney and creator of the airtight Massey Pre-Nuptial Agreement. Opposing him is Marylin Rexroth (Zeta-Jones), an ambitious (and drop-dead gorgeous) woman who has made a career out of marrying rich men and quickly divorcing them for their wealth.
But Miles is shocked to find he’s falling for the opposition.
The stage is set for a modern variation of "Adam’s Rib," but "Intolerable Cruelty" doesn’t quite match the sustained brilliance of that Tracy/Hepburn courtroom classic. There’s a bit too much sitcom slapstick and pre-fab predictability in "Cruelty" to withstand such a comparison.
Still, "Intolerable Cruelty" offers tolerable comedy, but in less surprising or demanding ways than Coen fans might expect. (I guess the inverse is that this comedy will be more appealing for filmgoers who prefer less challenging stuff and think the Coens are just too darn weird.)
The Coens put their stamps on the edgy, delightfully off-kilter performances by Clooney and a particularly hilarious Billy Bob Thorton. Thornton’s 10 minutes as a multi-billionaire Texas oil man are mighty memorable.
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