Clooney, Zeta-Jones' 'Cruelty' oh so tolerable
|Universal Studios / Melinda Sue Gordon|
|George Clooney is divorce attorney Miles Massey and Catherine Zeta-Jones is Marylin Rexroth, who is out for revenge because Massey represented her ex-husband in the divorce and left her nearly penniless in ‘Intolerable Cruelty.’|
In the Los Angeles of Joel and Ethan Coen's tarnished valentine of a romantic comedy "Intolerable Cruelty," a good man is hard to find.
There's TV producer Donovan Donaly (a pony-tailed Geoffrey Rush), who walks in on his wife and a slacker pool cleaner. But it's hard to feel for him, even in the midst of his betrayal, even when he's hoisted momentarily on his own lifetime achievement award. As for Ollie of Ollie'll Fix It! it is impossible to believe he could repair anything, let alone fix it with an exclamation point.
Good women are at a premium, too, in this town of swank offices and museum-sized homes. Like modern-day witches, they sit poolside in plush terry-cloth robes. Hardly toiling, these wives, former wives and future former wives are troubled instead with appointments for Botox and fanny fat injections.
A silly, wealthy man with a fondness for trains and buxom companions is much easier to locate. Especially if he's slaloming his car down dark roads to a seaside motel with a paramour beside him.
Rex Rexroth (Edward Herrmann) is about to get a starring role on reality TV. The private investigator hired by Marylin Rexroth bursts in on Rex and his gal pal. Let's roll the videotape. Or as PI Gus Petch (Cedric the Entertainer) says, wielding his camera, "I'm gonna nail yo' (rear)."
When it comes to heinie hammering, evidence turns out to be a tricky thing. Donaly took pictures of the scene of his wife's infidelity. Yet once attorney Miles Massey (George Clooney) gets ahold of him, he'll have nothing left.
Marylin (Catherine Zeta-Jones) caught husband Rex exposed, literally and legally. He has no pre-nup. Yet, the very same attorney dislodges Rex from his fabulously beautiful and wronged mate without handing over a penny.
That's how good a matrimonial attorney Miles Massey is. His specialty is the pre-nuptial agreement. No one makes a profit from a marriage once they've signed the "Massey Prenup." It's a document so iron clad, so impenetrable, Miles likes to say, that Harvard Law has dedicated a course to it.
Marylin is rather good herself. Burned by the vain Massey in court (with the nelly assist of a European concierge by the name of Baron Krauss von Espy), she sets in motion an elaborate revenge.
This clash of like minds and cold hearts is the beautiful come-on of "Intolerable Cruelty." Watching Clooney's Miles and Zeta-Jones' Marylin eye each other is a simmering pleasure. When Marylin makes a visit to Miles' office - her new and very rich fiance (Billy Bob Thorton) in tow - Miles' confusion and thwarted desire for her plays across Clooney's handsome mug with a sweet pang.
In "Intolerable Cruelty," the pre-nup is the anti-valentine. It's the missive you tear up when you want to express your love. Or in the case of one love-struck soul, the document he eats. How else to prove he trusts his beloved with his trust fund?
This being a romantic comedy, no payback plan runs smoothly. If it did, our lovers would never become lovers. The romantic would never become comedy.
"Intolerable Cruelty" is the second beautifully paced, smartly self-conscious romantic comedy released this year. The first, "Down With Love," starred Renee Zellweger and Ewan McGregor. That shiny bauble (out this week on video) used the movies of Doris Day and Rock Hudson to teasingly spin our notions of romance. It sank like a stone.
The Coen brothers are sure to have more luck with "Intolerable Cruelty." Not because it's the better film but because it has George Clooney and Catherine Zeta-Jones.
Clooney is zany and winning as Miles. Then there is the matter of Zeta-Jones. I can't think of another contemporary actress the camera has desired, not just loved, but out-and-out swooned for like it does for Zeta-Jones.
This, after all, is just the sort of miscalculation the brothers Coen are so good at exploiting for a laugh. Wheezy Joe (Irwin Keyes), an asthmatic fixer, looks as if he's moonlighting from a gig on "Carnivale."
The real duel in "Intolerable Cruelty" is the tussle between Herb's cynicism and our optimism about romantic love. A disheveled, love-whipped Miles says as much at in a very Capra-esque speech he delivers to a convention of matrimonial lawyers in Vegas.
"Intolerable Cruelty" has the cynicism down cold. It's the optimism it doesn't quite pull off.
*** (out of 4 stars)
Directed by: Joel Coen
Written by: Robert Ramsey & Matthew Stone and Ethan Coen & Joel Coen
Photography by: Roger Deakins
Starring: George Clooney, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Geoffrey Rush, Cedric the Entertainer, Richard Jenkins and Billy Bob Thornton
Rated: PG-13 for sexual content, language and brief violence
Running time: 1 hour 40 minutes
Distributed by: Universal Pictures
Opens: Today at area theaters
If you like this, try: "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" "That Touch of Mink," "Down With Love"