Sometimes you get the feeling that Joel and Ethan Coen make movies just to mess with the audience.
Their latest, “Hail, Caesar!” belongs to the wildly bizarre section of the Coen canon, alongside “Burn After Reading’ and “The Man Who Wasn’t There.” These movies have all the pieces to make a phenomenal “Coen brothers movie,” but something about them doesn’t grab you like the classics — “Fargo” or “The Big Lebowski” or “No Country for Old Men.”
It’s not that “Hail, Caesar!” is bad. It’s more that the film is a collection of great scenes that don’t add up to a story.
We’re inside the workings of the fictitious movie studio Capitol Pictures where Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin) is the head of physical production — essentially the studio’s fixer. Making sure things go smoothly means Mannix ping-pongs from each soundstage, or sometimes helps out the public image of one of his ingenues (Scarlett Johansson).
But on this day, he has to deal with the disappearance of the star Baird Whitlock (George Clooney) from the studio’s big movie of the year, “Hail, Caesar!: The Tale of the Christ.” Mannix quickly learns that Whitlock has been abducted and is being held ransom for $100,000.
Warning: If you’re expecting the next act to entail a ragtag group of actors teaming with Mannix to find Whitlock before the papers get wise, as the movie’s trailers spin it, that’s far from what happens.
That’s the blessing and the curse of a Coens movie: You can’t bottle it into a marketing campaign.
“Hail, Caesar!” is the Coen brothers paying homage to the sword-and-sandal epics, Westerns, musicals, and aquatic movies of yesteryear topped with some great performances from Brolin, Clooney, Johansson, Channing Tatum, Ralph Fiennes, and Alden Ehrenreich, who has a scene-stealing performance as a star of Westerns that the studio wants to rebrand.
I still don’t know if I liked “Hail, Caesar!” I may never know. And that indecisiveness is what the Coens strive for.
“Hail, Caesar!” opens in theatres on Friday.
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