Starring: George Clooney, Josh Brolin, Scarlett Johansson
Directed by: Joel and Ethan Coen (“Burn After Reading”)
Written by: Joel and Ethan Coen (“Bridge of Spies”)
Looking back at the recent production output of the writing/directing duo the Coen Brothers, nearly every movie they’ve made in the past decade has come out right in the thick of awards season. With the minor exception of the very underrated “Burn After Reading,” it is no coincidence that these movies have been critically acclaimed and (most of them) coming with awards nominations. Could it be an ominous sign that a Coen Brothers movie slides into the doldrums of January/February?
When a famous actor named Baird Whitlock (George Clooney) goes missing, studio fixer Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin) has a day to try to get his most prized possession back. Juggling a new job opportunity, snooping reporters, an angry filmmaker, and other personal problems, Mannix must find a way to keep his studio afloat.
A quick glance at the cast of “Hail, Caesar!” is enough to make any film fan excited. Unfortunately, nearly everyone in the cast is completely misused. Clooney, for example, has none of the charm that makes him such a popular actor. Actors like Jonah Hill and Scarlett Johannsson appear so briefly that they don’t even make an impact, the former having maybe three lines total.
Oddly enough, the person among the star-studded cast that makes the biggest impact is the one that is least known. Alden Ehrenreich, who plays a Western actor forced into a dramatic British film, is totally entertaining. Playing off of the fantastic Ralph Fiennes, the scene in which Ehrenreich is a complete fish out of water is the best in the film, allowing for the kind of straight up comedy that the Coen’s haven’t attempted in years.
But of course, this also illustrates the biggest issue of the film. This scene, and many others around it, feel almost like sketch comedy. And most of the time, not particularly good sketch comedy. The scenes and plotlines barely intersect with one another, and while having throwback slapstick may be a part of the aesthetic of the 50s, the humor (especially with the Clooney storyline) is outdated, boring, and most of all, not very funny.
“Hail, Caesar!” is a complete slog that churns its way through its runtime and wastes its spectacular cast. There are certainly some humorous sequences and bright spots, but they feel entirely disconnected from each other and totally incomplete. There’s no question that the Coens are some of the best filmmakers working in the industry today, which makes the film that much more disappointing. If anything, it goes to show that even those at the top of their game aren’t above mediocrity.