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  CHRISTOPHER SMITH ARTICLES
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Last updated: Friday, October 17, 2003

Zeta-Jones cruelly underused in 'Intolerable' comedy

In theaters



INTOLERABLE CRUELTY, directed by Joel Coen, written by Robert Ramsey, Matthew Stone, Ethan Coen and Joel Coen, 100 minutes, rated PG-13.



Somewhere in the world, probably where they harvest supermodels, there is a better looking, more talented and charismatic couple than George Clooney and Catherine Zeta-Jones. I'm sure they're very pleased knowing that, and I know we all wish them well.

Still, until they show up in their own movie, audiences have the opportunity to feast their eyes on the near physical perfection of Clooney and Zeta-Jones in "Intolerable Cruelty," Joel and Ethan Coen's screwy new romantic farce reworked from an 8-year-old script by Robert Ramsey and Matthew Stone.

As directed by Joel Coen ("Fargo," "O Brother, Where Art Thou?"), the film stars Clooney as Miles Massey, an unscrupulous Los Angeles divorce attorney known for his impenetrable prenuptial agreement - fittingly called the Massey Pre-Nup - and for his teeth, which have been bleached so many times, they have more bling than a rap star's wrist.

Zeta-Jones is Marylin Rexroth, a gorgeous minx who has earned a living by marrying wealthy men and then, when the time comes to divorce them for half their net worth, dropping them like yesterday's maxed-out credit cards. Marylin wants financial independence, and she'll do anything and anyone to get it.

Though Miles is aware of her motives, he nevertheless becomes obsessed by Marylin and her beauty, so much so that he wants her for himself, in spite of the potential repercussions to his own health and wealth. Obviously, there's danger in such impulse, with Miles never really knowing whether he can trust Marylin or whether the affection she eventually comes to show for him is real. It's just that air of mistrust that sours the last act of the movie.

It's strange. Clooney and Zeta-Jones were obviously hired to be treated as objects of desire here, but by not allowing them to follow through with the formidable spark they create onscreen and to truly smolder, as we know they could, one has to wonder what's the point of the movie? Intolerable audience cruelty?

Apparently so.

The film has a lot going for it - a gem of a premise, funny supporting turns from Paul Adelstein, Billy Bob Thornton, Edward Herrmann, Geoffrey Rush and Cedric the Entertainer, and one of the most surprising, outrageous laughs tucked into a movie this year - but it ultimately comes up short and feels thin.

Clooney is game and gives the film manic energy while further blurring the line between himself and Cary Grant, but Zeta-Jones is underused. In "Chicago," for which she won the Academy Award, she commanded the screen, proving a master of style and comic timing. Here, she's little more than an undulating clothes hanger, a smoky-eyed set piece draped in haute couture who has all the likability of a shark. The Coens don't seem to know what to do with her, which may hint at their own intimidation, and their movie, in the end, becomes as chilly and as saccharine as the characters themselves.

Grade: B-

On video and DVD



THE MATRIX: RELOADED, written and directed by Andy Wachowski and Larry Wachowski, 138 minutes, rated R.



"The Matrix: Reloaded" supersizes everything that was super about the Wachowski brothers' smash 1999 cult hit, "The Matrix." It's a film of excess and restraint, proving you can have both in a blockbuster, though it is fair to say that this time out, the Wachowskis are more inclined to unleash the former than embrace the latter.

Picking up soon after "The Matrix" left off, "Reloaded" follows Neo (Keanu Reeves), Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne), Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) and Link (Harold Perrineau) in their all-out attempt to save the world's last human inhabitants - now moshing in the underworld city of Zion - from extinction by the machines.

Joining them is Niobe (Jada Pinkett Smith), a potent pixie with a mean chop and a vicious kick who once had an affair with Morpheus but who now finds her religion, so to speak, in the capable hands of Commander Lock (Harry Lennix).

To stop the machines, Neo and company must find the Keymaker (Randall Duk Kim), physically hack into the Matrix mainframe, avert a couple of evaporating albino twins (Neil and Adrian Rayment), trash the Eurotrashy Merovingian (Lambert Wilson) and his brooding wife, Persephone (Monica Bellucci), and reach the Architect. With his lover, Trinity, at his side, and Morpheus close behind, Neo gives Agent Smith and his hundreds of clones a series of fights to remember.

And that's just what "Reloaded" becomes, an often breathtaking array of action sequences that are so exuberantly entertaining, it's impossible not to get swept up in the considerable excitement the Wachowskis generate.

More literal and streamlined than its predecessor, "Reloaded" might disappoint those hoping for more answers to the first film's underlying mysteries, but it must be viewed for what it is - the middle film of a trilogy. Think of it as a shot of adrenaline to the heart of the series, a movie intended to offer a heavy-breathing break from the heavy-handed psychobabble of the first film before the Wachowskis address all of our questions about Neo's destiny in "The Matrix: Revolutions," which completes the series and drops on Nov. 5.

Grade: A-

Christopher Smith is the Bangor Daily News film critic. His reviews appear Mondays and Fridays in Style, Thursdays at 5:30 p.m. on WLBZ 2 and WCSH 6, and are archived on RottenTomatoes.com. He can be reached at BDNFilm1@aol.com.



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