"Intolerable Cruelty" is being described as the film in which the Coen brothers go Hollywood.
It's actually the film in which Hollywood goes Coen brothers.
A screwball comedy that takes its flavor more from the Coens ("O Brother, Where Art Thou?," "Raising Arizona") than from Ernst Lubitsch or Frank Capra, "Intolerable Cruelty" details the romantic parrying of top L.A. divorce lawyer Miles Massey (George Clooney) and gold-digging serial wife Marylin Rexroth (Catherine Zeta-Jones).
Miles meets Marylin when she sues her philandering husband, Rex (Edward Herrmann), for divorce, and Rex hires Miles to represent him.
Thanks to Miles' hard work, the admittedly adulterous Rex ends up paying Marylin not a dime.
Miles is fascinated by Marylin, who appears to be nearly as clever a schemer as he is. But as he loses his heart to her, it seems that not even the infamously ironclad "Massey pre-nup" can protect him.
"Intolerable Cruelty" is the first movie in which director Joel Coen and his producer/co-screenwriter brother Ethan Coen have cast movie stars in movie-star roles, and the effect is spectacular.
Clooney, who worked with them on "O Brother," and Zeta-Jones are absolutely delicious.
Clooney has the panache of a top-of-his-game Errol Flynn, while Zeta-Jones combines the wit and wiliness of a Barbara Stanwyck with the sexiness of a Jean Harlow.
And then there are the unforgettable supporting characters.
Billy Bob Thornton hits a gusher as a babbling Texas oil scion, while Geoffrey Rush shines as a sleazy TV producer who catches his wife (Stacey Travis) with a pea-brained pool man (Jack Kyle).
Cedric the Entertainer is bawdy fun as private eye Gus Petch.
Jonathan Hadary is hilarious as Heinz, the wispy baron who knows Marylin's secrets, and Irwin Keyes steals the show as an asthmatic hit man.
The script by Matthew Stone, Robert Ramsey and the Coens has loads of great lines, and a soundtrack laced with Simon & Garfunkel tunes adds unexpected laughs. "Intolerable Cruelty" celebrates romance even as it skewers marriage and divorce.