It’s probably true that if this weren’t a Coen Brothers movie, its quality would have rated a 4/5, but they’ve raised expectations, so….

50s Hollywood! There are communists, and studios rule everything, and people have hilarious accents! Tilda Swinton plays two people, but they’re twin sisters! Fortunately they both have great hats.

During the movie it seemed strange how many disparate strands there were, until I remembered how Burn After Reading went. That said, the disparate strands in Hail, Caesar! did not resolve as well as those in Burn After Reading, even though it was literally Josh Brolin’s role (as Eddie Mannix) to bring them together. This is because he is the person who puts out fires at his studio, so he has to deal with all the nonsense his stars (and others) pull: Hobie Doyle (Alden Ehrenreich) is making the shift, Horst Buchholz-style, from westerns to…not-westerns, and his director, Laurence Laurentz (Ralph Fiennes) is cranky about it; DeeAnna Moran (Scarlett Johansson) is pregnant but unmarried, which is a problem; Baird Whitlock (George Clooney) is the star of the big sword-and-sandal flick about Jesus, and gets kidnapped by communists; he needs to consult with various spiritual leaders about the film; his son wants to play a different position on his baseball team. Oh, and he’s trying to quit smoking.

Channing Tatum also dances.

There are good moments, but the movie as a whole is disappointing. The film within a film is a hilarious send-up of Ben Hur and the like. The conversation Mannix has with three priests and a rabbi about how to put Jesus onscreen is incredibly funny. Laurentz teaching Hobie how to speak like a human being is drawn out the perfect amount, so that it stops being slightly irritating and starts being howlingly uproarious. The surfacing of a Soviet submarine is a bizarre but wonderful mix of The Hunt for Red October and Wes Anderson. But you can see how that might seem jumbled.

On a different note, it’s slightly odd to watch a movie that involves Hollywood and communists and doesn’t try to be a searing indictment of something but instead has David Krumholtz as an amusing drunk yelling pinko. Further, the various demands of the studio seem totally reasonable, since everyone who works there is an utter baby, and Mannix is put-upon and well-meaning. And, sure, it’s ironically exaggerated, but it seems just so much cutesier than most other Coen Brothers stuff.

Stray observations:

  • Scarlett Johansson is actually bad in her part as a pregnant screen siren; her accent obviously takes an immense amount of effort.
  • Channing Tatum can really hoof, man.

Directors: Joel & Ethan Coen
Rating: PG-13
Length: 106 minutes
Score: 3/5

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