Universal Pictures 1 hr 45 minutes PG 13
When the Coen Brothers tap A-List actors, they come running. And they’re here in another camp comedy exhibiting the talented writer/producers’ own brand of quirky humor. This time about the golden age of studios and behavior of their movie stars in the 50’s. George Clooney, Channing Tatum, Josh Brolin, Scarlett Johansson and Tilda Swinton said yes to the Writer/Directors, without even looking at the script!
George Clooney as Baird Whitlock, is the heartthrob now playing the macho star of a Roman epic, chariot and all. Clooney says it’s the first time he had to wear a skirt for any role and described it as “breezy.” That’s the only costume he wears the whole movie as he’s being kidnapped for ransom by a group of Blacklisted Commie Screenwriters. They’re actually funny together.
Channing Tatum as Carter Burwell, channels song and dance icon, Gene Kelly. He took tap dance lessons for 3 months lighting up the screen without even taking off his shirt! Tatum wears a sailor suit for a 6 minute production number. Never having played a musical instrument, he says tap was harder than he ever imagined calling it “foot percussion” staying into the music and in character. Tatum salutes Kelly for his ability to do all that so flawlessly.
Scarlett Johansson is a high diving mermaid a la Esther Williams with Busby Berkley girls doing synchronized swimming in a huge pool. She looks so demure until she opens her mouth. And when she gets in the kind of trouble the studio doesn’t want, she goes to shady lawyer, Jonah Hill, the shady lawyer working for the studio tapped to cover her indiscretions.
Josh Brolin plays Eddie Mannix, “The Fixer.” He’s the studio head who tries to keep his stable of stars busy and out of trouble. Brolin plays just tough enough keeping the gossip columnists at bay. Yes, there are two! Tilda Swinton plays twin sisters who are rivals trying to scoop each other. Her suits and hats are period classics, and she pops up everywhere. Well, there ARE two of her.
The costumes and sets are a throwback to the days when movies were bigger than life in a rich technicolor world. The comedy is half drawing room, half slapstick. Josh Brolin gets the best slapstick scene of all, slapping George Clooney silly. Before shooting when Clooney couldn’t make it to rehearsals, he emailed that he was sorry he couldn’t make the rehearsal but his buddy, Brolin, could take it out on him during the shoot, and he does.
The surprise role is that of the charming, riding, roping and singing cowboy, Hobie Doyle, played by Alden Ehrenreich (Blue Jasmine). He’s so cute, you want to pinch his cheeks. He plays a Super star in Westerns and is so sweet and "down home." This cowboy can act most anything but drama and it’s fun to see him try that. His publicity date with Carlotta, who is patterned after South American fruit bearing singer, Carmen Miranda, gets good laughs. He’s got all kinds of tricks in his saddlebag.
Another scene stealer is Frances McDormand as the film editor showing dailies to Mannix. She’s has just one scene, but it's a show stopper. You will laugh out loud.
When Clooney in his Roman garb gets drugged and kidnapped, it’s up to Mannix to find him. Hobie hones in on the bad guys and joins the chase which has a nice twist.
Is this worth your bucks? It’s too bad younger viewers may not have seen the films that these characters are based on. Those films are a collection worth going back to watch. Brolin says he’s now addicted to watching Esther Williams in her swimming extravaganzas.
But you don’t have to have that reference to enjoy this entertaining parody of the old studio system. Ah, the good old days, when we didn’t know as much about the stars as we do now and they all seemed to be who we dreamed of being. Now we know much too much. But the Coen Brothers had fun with this one. Clooney and Tatum say the writer/directors laughed, giggled so much on the set watching as the actors shoot their script, they could be heard giggling till they honked. You may, too. Do we think you should see Hail Caesar? Hail yes!