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'Cruelty' is a fine turn for its stars

October 14, 2003


The question has been on the lips of fans of the Coen brothers and critics. Did the gifted siblings sell out to Hollywood when they agreed to make "Intolerable Cruelty"? Not quite. Certainly, the script lacks the quirky vision of Joel and Ethan. Chalk that up to the fact that, for a rare instance, they partnered with two other writers, Robert Ramsey and Matthew Stone, for this homage to director Preston Sturges comedies.

Why would the brothers do this? To make happy George Clooney, a mainstay of their hit "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" The Coens have given the star a role tailored to his comedic and romantic gifts. He's an enormously successful and rather arrogant attorney. Drop-dead gorgeous Catherine Zeta-Jones matches him as a serial bride who amasses wealth with each divorce.

Zeta-Jones is clever at her deception, although Clooney's also clever and recognizes her duplicity. Who will win the battle of prenuptial agreements? It's no secret that the beauty and the lawyer will wind up together, so let's call it a tie.

Sidebar fun comes from Edward Herrmann as Zeta-Jones' first philandering husband, Billy Bob Thornton as her Texas oilman husband, Jonathan Hadary as a discreet concierge who turns tattletale, and Paul Adelstein as Clooney's attorney-partner who is given to sobbing.

Joel Coen's direction is appropriately fast-paced, except for lingering on the beautiful actress and handsome co-star. It is strictly a star-driven vehicle.

'House of the Dead' is laughably bad Sorry. I just can't help it. Sometimes ghouls make me laugh. This was the case watching "The House of the Dead," which pretends to be a horror film.

The transformation starts when some late guests arrive on a deserted island (is there any other kind of island?) for a rave. They have paid dearly for passage on a lobster boat operated by Captain Kirk (a slumming Jurgen Prochnow, not William Shatner) and his first mate (Clint Howard looking like the fisherman from "I Know What You Did Last Summer").

That's all that passes for humor, and what passes for horror is little more as the ghoul fest, composed chiefly of their bitten friends. The assortment of what passes for heroes and heroines is the usual - one smart woman, the world's top underwear model and a dimwit, a decent chap and a courageous black woman. None can act, so it's useless to name them, since, if they progress further, they will expunge this credit from their resumes. Also they all appear older than the college students they're supposed to be.

Besides Kirk, one other adult occupies the role of a marine patrol officer who is trying to catch the captain smuggling. She's a contemporary version of a "pistol-packin' mama." As for the underwear model, Calvin Klein wouldn't hire Tyron Leitso, the actor who plays the character.

"House" wants to be seen as the original "Blair Witch Project." No way. It gives up the ghost and reveals its video-game origins long before fadeout.

© 2003 The Post-Standard. Used with permission.

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