Hail, Caesar! (E. & J. Coen, 2016)

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Hail, Caesar!, written and directed by Ethan and Joel Coen (2016).

Score: meh.

Hail, Caesar! follows the everyday life of Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin, based on real-life E. J. Mannix), a studio producer in Classic Hollywood known for being able to fix any problems: with depraved movie stars, nosy gossip reporters or slips of the tongue. The production of in-universe Hail, Caesar!, a Ben-Hur expy, is stopped when movie star Baird Whitlock (George Clooney) goes missing. Other subplots include trying to hide that star DeeAnna Moran (Scarlett Johansson) is having a baby out of wedlock, preventing columnist Thora Thacker (and her sister, both played by Tilda Swinton) from publishing embarrassing gossip about studio stars, or cowboy stunt actor Hobie Doyle (Alden Ehrenreich) being moved to a drama production directed by auteur Laurence Laurentz (Ralph Fiennes) and struggling with the acting.

The main problem with this movie is it doesn’t have any main plot, it only has subplots. It feels disjointed. Most of the top-billed actors are only onscreen for fewer than fifteen minutes and their plots feel like outlines. It’s like this movie only has a first act. It plays with well-known Classic Hollywood anecdotes and situations, but really doesn’t have a soul. If you’re young and this is one of your first contacts with Old Hollywood, you might enjoy it. Conversely, you might also enjoy it if you like everything Old Hollywood related. If you’re a casual fan, you’ll probably be like: “Well, and?”

It’s got amusing scenes, like the one where the priests and rabbi discuss the portrayal of Jesus onscreen; but then later it pretends that Marxist philoso-babble is funny in itself or something. It also tried too hard to cram in every little Classic Hollywood theme, trope and sequence, from tap-dancing to hard-boiled detective. Channing Tatum’s tap-dancing is actually impressive, but the number in itself is not that great and doesn’t save the movie.

It’s Singin’ in the rain all over again, only Singin’ in the rain had a spark. It was more than: “Look at all these films I’m referencing!” and that’s why it became a classic while Hail, Caesar! will not. I’m sure the Coens had great fun making it, but what the creator enjoys is not always what the viewer enjoys.

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