Hail, Caesar!, 2016, 2 stars

Oh, hail no!

Hail, Caesar! a rare misfire for Coen Brothers

Hail, Caesar

Image copyright Mike Zoss Productions/Working Title Films

Exclusive to MeierMovies.com

Joel and Ethan Coen have given so much to cinema that it’s nice to see the movies give something back. In the brothers’ latest comedy, Hail, Caesar!, cinema itself offers up its history, culture, craft, historic soundstages and iconic Hollywood studio lots as inspiration. It’s just too bad the Coens couldn’t make a better meal from all these delicious dishes.

Josh Brolin stars as Eddie Mannix, the creative head of Capital Pictures in the early 1950s. He not only must supervise multiple films at once – he also must juggle myriad personalities and mini-scandals, including the quirky kidnapping of the studio’s biggest star, Baird Whitlock, played with campy panache, but not much else, by George Clooney.

A parade of other famous actors follow, with little to do and not much time in which to do it. Indeed, Jonah Hall and Frances McDormand’s parts are so brief that you’ll miss them entirely during a long blink. In slightly larger but only a tad more developed roles are Ralph Fiennes, Scarlett Johansson, Tilda Swinton, Channing Tatum, Wayne Knight, Alden Ehrenreich (in perhaps the film’s best performance) and, well, the list continues ad nauseam. It’s not so much a group of connected characters as a fleeting glimpse of strangers passing in and out of Mannix’s life during a crazy day-and-a-half in Hollywood.

Still, the film is not without charm and admittedly contains several cleverly comedic moments. There’s a posh director (Fiennes) laboriously lecturing his country hick of an actor (Ehrenreich) on the subtleties of an upper-crust British dialect. There’s an on-set caterer asking an actor crucified on a Roman cross whether he’s a principal or an extra, in an effort to determine whether he gets a hot or cold lunch. There’s a spoofy commentary on the Dalton Trumbo generation of Hollywood writers. And maybe most amusingly, there’s a trademark Coen Brothers gag involving Frances McDormand wearing a dangerously placed scarf while operating a film projector. To top that all off, there are homages to just about every genre, including Western, Busby Berkeley musical, period piece and film noir, the latter thanks to a misplaced voiceover by Michael Gambon.

Despite the cleverness of these scenes and the capabilities of the actors, these funny moments are too few, too random and, most surprisingly, just not funny enough. They make a nice collection of short films, but, as Robert Altman would tell you, myriad vignettes and characters must be joined together in a meaningful way if there’s any hope of creating a compelling feature film. Yes, the lovingly crafted design, well-choreographed production numbers and solid cinematography from the still-Oscar-less Roger Deakins make the film visually pleasing, but they don’t make up for the undeveloped story and disconnected mini-narratives.

“Sure, they are kooks,” one character says of film actors and craftsmen. “It’s all make-believe.”

While the Coens capture that kookiness in the film’s style, they uncharacteristically display a kookiness – and laziness – of structure and coherency, too. And by doing so, they have created that rarest of cinematic creatures: a subpar Coen Brothers pic.

Copyright 2016 © Cameron Meier