The Coen Brothers have crafted the latest in a recent string of movies about movies with “Hail, Caesar!” – a comedy designed around a major, fictitious Hollywood studio of the 1950s.
Josh Brolin is terrific as Eddie Mannix, the head of production of Capital Pictures. Dressed more like a detective that a studio big shot, Mannix is the man who makes sure that all the shoots are going smoothly, all the actors and directors are taken care of and that they’re properly represented in the press – even if that means drastically changing their images and personal lives.
The studio’s biggest production of the year is the biblical epic, “Hail, Caesar!” starring A-lister, Baird Whitlock (played by the current king of Hollywood George Clooney). But when Whitlock is kidnapped by a mysterious group called The Future, Mannix must find a way to get him back.
While the trailers and commercials lead you to believe otherwise, this plot development isn’t really what “Hail, Caesar!” is all about. This isn’t a “who kidnapped the big star?” film. In fact, this is the weakest part of the film, as it’s awkwardly presented, oddly executed and provides no legitimate payoff. There isn’t much deep meaning behind anything in “Hail, Caesar!”, though some of it is highly creative and entertaining.
Much of the movie focuses on the daily workings of a big-time movie studio and on Mannix, the man in charge of keeping all the balls in the air. The Coens weren’t afraid to devote chunks of time to lengthy production scenes – and most of them produce smiles and even some laughs. Ralph Fiennes is great in a small role as director Laurence Laurentz. And about halfway in, we head into Soundstage 8 for a memorable Channing Tatum-led sailors dance number. This scene gives us an indication of what, I think, the Coen Brothers were going for – for “Hail, Caesar!” to be both a farce and an homage to this period in cinema.
But their script is unfocused, surprisingly safe, and not as consistently clever as it thinks it is. As for Clooney, he’s actually miscast – he’s about 10 years too old to play this goofy character. Scarlett Johansson, as the starlet of the aquatic movies, isn’t very convincing, either. And Jonah Hill (seen on the poster) and Frances McDormand are in just a single scene each.
Yes, some of the movies back in the 50s were lightweight and corny and may not have had much of a point. But just because this is a movie about those movies didn’t mean it had to follow that same formula.
On The Official LCJ Report Card, “Hail, Caesar!” gets a C+.
Running Time: 106 min.