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Intolerable Cruelty

movie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: Intolerable Cruelty

Starring: George Clooney, Catherine Zeta-Jones
Director: Joel Coen
Rated: PG-13
RunTime: 100 Minutes
Release Date: October 2003
Genres: Comedy, Romance

*Also starring: Billy Bob Thornton, Julia Duffy, Paul Adelstein, Mia Cottet, Geoffrey Rush, Cedric the Entertainer, Michael A. Tessiero, John Bliss, Stacey Travis

Review by Harvey Karten
1½ stars out of 4

Romantic comedies are a Hollywood staple. Unfortunately, the slick works like "Maid in Manhattan" that Tinseltown churns our way are wholly predictable: boy chases girl, boy loses girl, girl chases boy; and lacking in witty, sparkling dialogue. This is why there was considerable interest in "Intolerable Cruelty," given its direction by Joel Coen with his brother Ethan as co-writer. We expect challenging material, the sort that the Coens are famous for in "The Hudsucker Proxy" (a country bumpkin becomes the Big City pawn in a scheme to ruin a thriving business) and especially their most celebrated movie, "Fargo" (a unique spin on a murder case with droll reference to the speech and life-style of Minnesotans). Alas, what comes across has undistinguished repartee masquerading as a revival of the old screwball comedies ("Born Yesterday," "The Philadelphia Story," "Adam's Rib"), all by George Cukor whose great discovery was Katherine Hepburn. While Catherine Zeta-Jones is arguably a more dazzling beauty that Ms. Hepburn had been, and with George Clooney perhaps expecting to use to film to be honored as the new Cary Grant, "Intolerable Cruelty" lets both down with twists that most in the audience could spot a mile away and sitcom performances from actors who exchange looks of eye-popping surprise at the most banal discoveries when their roles call instead for sophistication.

The concept is hardly original, derived in part from David Mirkin's cynical "Heartbreakers" just two years ago about mother-and-daughter con artists who marry men and take them for everything they're worth in divorce settlements. A mom has her daughter play up to rich guy, marry them, and then catch them the next day in adulterous relationships (manipulated by the mom). In "Intolerable Cruelty," a gold-digging femme fatale, Marylin (Catherine Zeta-Jones), marries rich guys like real- estate tycoon Rex Rexroth and, after a messy divorce in which matrimonial hotshot attorney Miles (George Clooney) successfully blocks her plea for a large settlement, decides to get even. She does through a scheme involving a hitch-up to alleged oil tycoon Howard D. Doyle (Billy Bob Thornton), a marriage destined to end in the usual style.

Among the factors marring this production aside from the absence of Coen-ic wit is the mugging for the camera not only by Miles (George Clooney's specialty) but by his associate attorney Wrigley (Paul Adelstein). The one Coen signature comes through in embarrassing monologues fed to the two attorneys by the head of the firm, the wheezy 87-year-old founder (Irwin Keyes). Nor is the film aided by the absurdities in logic. Under California law, property acquired during marriage is to be split evenly. In one particular case of matrimony entered into by Marylin, the couple split up the very day after the nuptials with Marylin hoping to get half of her new husband's property. You don't need a legal secretary, much less someone with Miles's knowledge, to see through this.

Copyright 2003 Harvey Karten

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