“HAIL, CAESAR!” My rating: C+ (Opens wide on Feb. 5)
106 minutes | MPAA rating: R
The Coen Brothers’ “Hail, Caesar!” isn’t much of a movie, but as an affectionate (mostly) valentine to the Golden Age of Hollywood filmmaking, it’s a generally enjoyable goof.
The threadbare plot devised by Joel and Ethan Coen provides the siblings with multiple opportunities to go behind the scenes at the massive (and fictional) Capitol Movies studio in Los Angeles in the late 1940s.
We get to watch as America’s fantasies are brought to life. But as with sausages and laws, sometimes it’s best not to know how they’re made.
Kicking the yarn into motion is the kidnapping of stiffly handsome matinee idol Baird Whitlock (George Clooney), whose current assignment is to play a Roman centurion in the biblical epic “Hail, Caesar!”
The studio’s production chief, Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin) gets to work recovering his ransomed movie star.
That’s about it for story.
The pleasures of “Hail, Caesar!” (the Cohen Brothers movie, not the “tale of the Christ” being filmed on the Capitol lot) are to be found in its satire/celebration of iconic Hollywood personalities and situations.
Early on Eddie must convene a meeting of faith leaders who have been asked to comment on the screenplay for “Hail, Caesar!” — it’s the movie’s funniest scene and a wickedly barbed sendup of institutionalized religion.
Eddie must contend with the potty-mouthed Esther Williams-type star of aquatic musicals (Scarlett Johansson) whose mermaid outfit now won’t fit because of pregnancy (she’s unmarried).
He drops off the ransom money on a soundstage where a Gene Kelly-ish song and dance man (Channing Tatum) is shooting a big production number about a crew of sailors dismayed at the prospect of eight months at sea without women. Not only are Tatum’s acrobatic musical comedy skills first rate, but the slyly homoerotic elements of the dance routine suggests that these Navy swabs will find ways to let off steam during their voyage.
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