Friday, October 10, 2003
Zeta-Jones drives Clooney loony in 'Cruelty'
The fall movie previews seem to have universally picked "Intolerable Cruelty" -- with George Clooney and Catherine Zeta-Jones working with the Coen Brothers -- as the season's most promising mix of art and commerce.
And, for once, they are right: The movie is a delicious, consistently hilarious screwball farce that gives Clooney his best comedy role to date and should finally, forever, lift the Coens into the wide-release movie mainstream.
The Coens' more picky fans may miss the dead-pan eccentricity of "Barton Fink," "Miller's Crossing" and "The Man Who Wasn't There," but the film is so funny and winning that it's hard to see how even the most snobby Coen-aste will be able to resist it for long.
It's the story of Miles Massey, a handsome, vainly debonair, hugely successful L.A. divorce attorney (Clooney) who has the legal ethics of Whiplash Willie and a combative determination that will send him to any immoral length to nail the spouse of a client.
Miles meets his match in Marilyn Rexroth (Zeta-Jones), a calculating, coolly emasculating young wife who has plotted a scheme to take her philandering real-estate mogul husband -- Miles' client -- for all he's worth.
The sparks fly in their first meeting, and the rest of the movie is a wild ride in which the two extravagant characters come together while trying to one-up each other in and out of court -- often to the improbable lengths of a Road Runner/Wily Coyote cartoon.
The Coen film it most resembles is the ill-fated "The Hudsucker Proxy," because it's an expensive movie out to please a mass audience and -- even though some of the humor is dark -- it's a big step away from the arty edginess of their early black comedies.
But the "Blood Simple" vein of humor peaked in their 1996 masterpiece, "Fargo," and has since seemed very played out. And the brothers obviously have a gift for a gentler, sweeter-spirited brand of comedy, as well as a willingness to satisfy the demands of a big-star vehicle.
This one works like a clock, off a very clever script (with Coens sharing credit this time with two other writers), Grazer's typically slick production values, a solid supporting cast and a shrilly ingratiating performance by Zeta-Jones in the less demanding of the two star roles.
And Clooney has simply never been better. He's totally commanding as a movie-star presence, his character is a scream and he's so adept at the self-deprecating, muggy comedy that he poses a very serious threat to Hugh Grant as contemporary Hollywood's greatest light comedian.
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