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Arts & LivingArts & Living

Posted on Fri, Oct. 10, 2003 story:PUB_DESC
Coen Bros. do magic in `Intolerable Cruelty'
Clooney, Zeta-Jones shine in wacky comedy

Beacon Journal movie critic
Catherine Zeta-Jones and George Clooney star in Intolerable Cruelty.
Catherine Zeta-Jones and George Clooney star in Intolerable Cruelty.

Intolerable Cruelty is a sinfully sumptuous cinematic romp that returns Joel and Ethan Coen to the offbeat, wacky comedy reminiscent of earlier efforts such as Raising Arizona.

The movie, which stars George Clooney as a shark of a divorce lawyer, features the same oddball characters that populate other Coen Brothers comedies, such as Hy in Raising Arizona and The Dude in The Big Lebowski.

But while characters are commonalities, the most powerful aspect of any Coen Brothers movie is always the writing and directing. This script, with an assist from Robert Ramsey and Matthew Stone, crackles with life and wit, and Joel, who has always been behind the camera, opens the film with a wickedly funny sequence featuring Geoffrey Rush as a victimized TV producer who finds his wife just after she has indulged in a little hanky-panky with a ``friend.'' It's not completely integral to the plot, but it allows us to know Miles Massey (Clooney) at his vainglorious greatest.

Miles revels in protecting his clients at all costs. He takes apart the TV producer, leaving him penniless even though it was he who was wronged.

Rex Rexroth (Edward Herrmann) comes to Miles after being caught on videotape with a floozy. His wife, Marylin (Catherine Zeta-Jones), is a woman just waiting to suck the finances out of any millionaire who crosses her path. So Miles proves that she married her husband just for his money, and Rexroth gets off without paying a cent.

But a funny thing happens on the way to divorce court. Miles, who has been emotionally adrift for ages, finds himself attracted to Marylin, and she's not exactly shying away from him.

It's important to remember, however, that they are two of a kind. Cynical, money-hungry bloodsuckers, they care only about how they can profit from their situation.

Miles gets a look at his future by way of his firm's senior partner, a curmudgeonly old man kept alive through a series of tubes that make him look like a creation of Dr. Frankenstein. Marylin sees her own monster in her thrice-divorced friend, Sarah (Julia Duffy), who has settlements from three wealthy husbands and is lonelier than a rat in a pack of cats.

Unfortunately for Miles, Marylin isn't exactly the forgiving type, and you just have to wonder what she has up her sleeve to even the divorce score.

The Coens and Company don't let the audience down with what follows. It's far from contrived, thoroughly hilarious and deliciously executed in a playfully evil manner.

Joel Coen allows everyone to fly free in their parts. We saw Clooney show a hint of being this loose and comically engaging in another Coen Brothers confection, O! Brother Where Art Thou? But here, he's sincere without being maudlin. He's devious without being over the top, and he and Zeta-Jones have an undeniable chemistry that oozes with sexual tension and tickles the audience with humor.

There is nothing intolerable about the latest offering from the Coen Brothers.

George M. Thomas is the movie critic for the Akron Beacon Journal. He can be reached at 330-996-3579 or at
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