With the Coen Brothers’ films you either love them or you hate them. “Hail, Caesar!” unfortunately falls into the latter category. I, like many others, fell victim to some irresistibly charming marketing. Who could resist the delightful “Hail, Caesar!” trailer which promised silly antics by an all-star cast having a screwball comedy ball set in a fictional 1950s movie studio? See Channing Tatum dance! See Scarlet Johansson swim! See Jonah Hill do nothing for 23 seconds! It was a dream cast that practically had me foaming at the mouth, but the end result had me practically falling asleep in my seat. The problem was mostly the long, drawn out scenes that never really seemed to connect which made the film feel a tad disjointed. The performances were spot on of course and the period detail was there in glorious Technicolor, but it was all for a story that never quite congealed.
The film first and foremost wastes its splendid cast. Sure it’s sad that they all don’t really get much to do (some only appear in one scene) but it feels just like stunt casting to get people in the theater. The only one who gets to do much with her role is Tilda Swinton who plays rival twin sister gossip writers. The film focuses on studio head Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin) who’s job is also to “fix” thins when actors and others get into trouble. For instance, Scarlet Johansson gets knocked up and he makes arrangements for her baby to be adopted. The film’s main story involves George Clooney’s Baird Whitlock, the star of a new Roman epic, being drugged on set, kidnapped, and held for ransom. In true Coen brothers form the thing the story that drives the main plot sort of gets tossed aside in favor or quirky scenes that feel either drawn out or just altogether unnecessary.
One of the issues Eddie must deal with is the young Western actor Hobie Doyle’s (Alden Ehrenreich) terrible acting in his new romantic drama helmed by Laurence Laurentz (Ralph Fiennes) and the stress it causes the director. The Coens force us to watch Hobie’s terrible acting take after take that goes on forever and we wonder if they’re actually punishing us for paying money to see their movie. Their mantra seems to be the longer it goes on the funnier it must get. Nope. Hands down the best sequence involves Tatum’s intentionally homoerotic sailor dance number. It’s worth the price of admission alone and single handedly saves the film.
Even for a silly comedy I see plenty of links to other dark dramas of Coens’ past like “No Country for Old Men” and even “Fargo” where briefcases full of money also played key roles. When the film’s not-quite-interesting-enough mysteries are revealed nothing feels satisfactory. Unfortunately “Hail Caesar” just isn’t funny enough to be a great comedy and it’s not dramatic enough to be a suspense thriller. At least the music and cinematographer give the film way more oomph than the film really deserves. Definitely file this one under “huge disappointment.” GRADE: C+
Trailer for Hail, Caesar! on TrailerAddict.