Even the darkest Coen Brothers’ dramas contain a bit of humor, so when they turn to out-and-out comedy, you’re going to have a pretty fun time at the movies.
This affectionate, star-studded satire of postwar Golden-Age Hollywood is by turns clever and goofy; an homage and a send-up at the same time. The humor’s off-kilter, the characters memorable, the cinematography in Technicolor, and the in-jokes constant.
There’s no real plot to speak of; it’s more a string of witty, sometimes musical set pieces. It’s all glued together by a tremendous Josh Brolin, a studio fixer who strides purposefully from this nut job to that ego crisis over the course of what passes in Tinseltown as just another day in the dream factory.
George Clooney, channeling Charlton Heston, is kidnapped by communist screenwriters from the set of a cornball Biblical epic (the consultation with four religious leaders is priceless). Scarlett Johansson’s a knocked-up Esther Williams type in a mermaid costume performing a lavish Busby Berkeley aquacade. Channing Tatum does a pretty good Gene Kelly in a hilarious sailor song-and-dance scene (“We got no dames”) with homoerotic undertones.
But best is a flawless Ralph Fiennes as a “prestige” director trying to shoehorn a Gene Autry-style singing cowboy (Alden Ehrenreich) into his mid-Atlantic drawing room drama. The elocution lesson is a classic. Tilda Swinton plays twin gossip columnists that detest each other.
This is not a “major” film. Call it “Coen Lite.” But as you leave the theater, I wager you’ll be saying, or perhaps even humming, “That’s entertainment.” (106 min)