'Hail, Caesar!' is sharp and amusing but a minor work by the Coen brothers

( PG-13 ) ( Monitor Movie Guide )

'Caesar!' stars Josh Brolin as a 'fixer' for movie studio Capital Pictures and George Clooney as a famous, fatuous movie star. Clooney has a lot of fun with the role.

Universal Pictures/AP
George Clooney portrays Baird Whitlock in 'Hail, Caesar!'

In “Hail, Caesar!” the Coen brothers, Joel and Ethan, have come up with another ​one of their brainy, jokey head-scratchers (as opposed to one of their apocalyptic creepfests like “No Country For Old Men” or “Barton Fink”). Set in 1950s Hollywood, it centers on Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin), a real-life “fixer” for MGM – called here Capital Pictures – whose primary job is keeping the studio’s high-priced stars from publicly shaming themselves. 

The Coens have an affinity for the waning days of ​Hollywood’s Golden Age, if only because that era allows them to wax nostalgic while at the same time subverting the nostalgia. The film involves the kidnapping of a famous, fatuous movie star, played by George Clooney, by a team of Tinseltown Communists. (Clooney, uniformed in Roman legion garb for a biblical costume epic, has a lot of fun with this dimwit.) Along the way the Coens work in satirical tributes of spangly musical numbers à la Esther Williams (Scarlett Johansson) and Gene Kelly (Channing Tatum), though both stars go by different names here. The film is often​ sharp and amusing, but it’s a doodle in the Coen canon. Grade: B (Rated PG-13 for some suggestive content and smoking.)

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