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HAIL, CAESAR! is Zany Comedy Heaven for Coen Brothers Fans

Having been serious over the last few years, Joel and Ethan Coen return back to their long-abandoned wackiness for this madcap riff on '50s Hollywood.

While watching the Coen brothers recent films, namely the soulful and dark character studies Inside Llewyn Davis (2013) and A Serious Man (2009), it's easy to forget that they're also incomparable filmmakers when it comes to extreme silliness. Before now, one would have to dig back all the way to 1998 (The Big Lebowski) or 1987 (Raising Arizona) for evidence of Joel and Ethan Coen's highbrow goofs, but here comes Hail, Caesar!, an Old Hollywood satire that doubles down on its joyful ridiculousness to the point of, well, ultimately not having much of a refined point at all. Forgoing any sense of a streamlined narrative, the Coens let loose with flimsily connected string of glamorous, 1950s-set movie-land vignettes that range from hilariously awkward to semi-frustratingly brief and gloriously entertaining.

The anchor of it all is Eddie Mannix (played by Josh Brolin), the in-house "fixer," a.k.a scandal squasher, for the MGM-like Capitol Pictures Group, whose enormous soundstage lot houses the productions of sword-and-sandal epics, cowboy romps, and elaborate song-and-dance musicals. A nonsensical accident triggers the sudden disappearance of the beloved yet dim-witted actor Baird Whitlock (a wonderfully buffoonish George Clooney), leading Mannix to poke around the various movie sets in hopes of figuring out what the hell has happened to the star of his studio’s big-budget Roman/biblical epic. Along the way, Mannix checks in with a philandering and sultry actress (Scarlett Johansson); a young, handsome yokel (Alden Ehrenreich) who’s struggling to transition from westerns to talky dramas; a pair of twin gossip reporters (Tilda Swinton, times two); and the charming and dance-happy star of a musical about horny sailors (Channing Tatum, playing his big moment like it's in a PG-rated Magic Mike).

With a dash of wacky Communist screenwriter ennui, Hail, Caesar! is as overstuffed with non-sequiturs as it is unpredictably alive. Famous faces show up for one scene, or two at the most, like Jonah Hill, whose entire on-screen presence can essentially be seen in Hail, Caesar!'s commercials. The stakes are laughably miniscule, and those looking for thematic heft or emotional payoffs will be left wishing they were re-watching No Country for Old Men instead. But they'll also be missing the point. Few other living directors could give Channing Tatum his own extended Fred Astaire dance number and make it look as authentically golden-age. (If this shot from that sequence doesn’t make you laugh, you’re better off seeing Nicholas Sparks' The Choice.)



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