This one's worth checking out.

This one’s worth checking out.

Would that it were so simple.

Well-made, but would that it were so simple.

Josh Brolin as Eddie Mannix.

Josh Brolin as Eddie Mannix.

I went to see Hail, Caesar! with my brother for my birthday on last week’s Monday (today it’s his, as it were), and now that the Oscars are out of the way, I figured I might as well write my review of it. As someone who has always admired the Joel and Ethan Coen, I’ll start off by saying that this is probably not the Coen brothers movie that you want to see as your first.

The film has a lot of great jokes and jabs at everyone and everything in Hollywood, as well as a skillful recreation of 1950’s era filmmaking. What it lacks is a story that leads anywhere and stakes to make things interesting. I know this is frequent in the Coens’ films but it usually works better than this. The Big Lebowski, for one, compensates for its lack of a traditional story with brilliant characters and a sense of disorientation that feels deliberate.

In this one we mainly follow Josh Brolin (who gives one fine performance) as Eddie Mannix, a “fixer” in Hollywood with his name attached to many a film. He learns that Baird Whitlock (George Clooney) the star of an upcoming biopic about ancient Rome and Jesus Christ, titled similarly to this film, has been mysteriously kidnapped. I dare not give too much away about the nature of the kidnappers and what sort of demands they make and why.

The movie has more things to focus on, however. Hobie Doyle (Alden Ehrenreich), a star known for his stunt work in cheesy Westerns, is cast by director Laurence Laurentz (Ralph Fiennes) in a much more classy film, more akin to Gone With the Wind. There’s also Tilda Swinton, playing two different journalists (they’re twins) who both revel in Hollywood gossip and the suchwise. Some of the film’s subplots could probably have been removed for the sake of pacing; a problem I don’t usually have with equally subplot-heavy Coen productions.

hail-caesar-14668-largeIt’s a little odd that so many big names are given so little to do. Jonah Hill gets but two lines and the awesometacular Frances MacDormand is only in one scene, albeit an extremely funny one. In fact, many of the big actors in the film do get memorable moments, however small. Christopher Lambert gave one of the few convincing faux-Swedish accents I’ve heard and Scarlett Johansson was as lovely as ever. She too faked an accent for this role, granted this was one that I can’t decipher what it is.

And that Channing Tatum. Who knew that he could be so entertaining when he’s not busy with rom-coms in which little besides his well-trained physique is on display (see also Hateful Eight)? I’m sure the people who praised Magic Mike 2 aren’t all horny superfans, but I’ll still take his dance number as a sailor boy in this film over that. He’s meant to be a call-back to Gene Kelly, just as Clooney’s character brings to mind Kirk Douglas and Hobie Doyle is basically Kirby Grant. Johansson, meanwhile, is meant to made us think of Esther Williams.

In terms of production design, this film replicates 1950’s Hollywood beautifully, including the production design within those films. However, it also manages to provide commentary on the sort of political correctness hullabaloo we see today. The eponymous film is, as we established, about Jesus, and one scene shows Eddie Mannix consulting people of four different religions about whether or not this movie will be okay to show. Predictably it doesn’t go too smoothly.

In spite of all this, some parts of Hail, Caesar! felt unneeded and I won’t be rating it higher than 3/5. It’s good, but it doesn’t strike me as anything that special. When it ends, it feels like the Coens just packed up their things and went “Well, I guess we made another movie”. It might be fitting, though, since some of the writing in this film truly makes you wonder whether the Coen brothers like doing what they do.

Down below is a trailer. I would see it pop up frequently on YouTube a few months ago, and Scarlett Johansson’s outfit made me think she was playing Tinkerbell. Thank Vishu we didn’t end up with another Pan.

3/5 whatever