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.)