The good news about INTOLERABLE CRUELTY, a classic screwball comedy from Joel
and Ethan Coen, can be summed up in two names: Clooney and Zeta-Jones. These
two big stars use their charismatic personalities to maximum effect, and the
chemistry between them is dazzling. But the Coen brothers are hit-and-miss
filmmakers with wonderfully engaging films like FARGO and DOA ditties like O
BROTHER, WHERE ART THOU? In INTOLERABLE CRUELTY, they get maximum mileages
from their two leads, but the rest of the cast mostly just wastes our time.
The best example of this is the opening sequence, which features Geoffrey Rush
in an embarrassing bit of buffoonery that would have been better left on the
cutting room floor.
The best news is that Clooney and Zeta-Jones do get plenty of screen time to
demonstrate their comedic talents. George Clooney plays Miles Massey, a wildly
successful divorcee attorney who has gotten bored with his adult toys,
including his permanent tab at the Mercedes dealer. He is a super suave guy,
completely in love with himself, whose favorite pastime is admiring his snow
white teeth. His prenuptial agreements are so famously ironclad that Harvard
Law teaches a class about them.
Just as ambitious as Miles is Marylin Rexroth (Catherine Zeta-Jones), a gold
digger who likes marrying really rich, really dumb guys whom she can divorce
before their first anniversary, preferably their first monthly anniversary.
But she's a woman with strict standards. As she explains to a bevy of Botox
beauties, who are nominally her girlfriends, she only takes "one husband at a
time." She doesn't start dallying until the current one is divorced.
Both Clooney and Zeta-Jones are given simple lines that they deliver so
deliciously that they set some sort of gold standard. It's too bad that the
rest of the movie is never as good as some of these small moments, many of
which appear in the trailers. "I assume you're a carnivore?" Miles says to
Marylin after ordering steak for her without asking. "You have no idea," she
replies quietly and innocently, but with a devilish grin. Miles best moment
comes when he looks longingly as Marylin walks away, saying, "You fascinate
me," after she is probably just out of hearing range. The line is nothing
special. It is Clooney's reading of it that makes it shine. Marylin's best
moment comes after Miles finds out that she named her dog after the ex-husband
whom she fleeced. "I'm sentimental," she explains with her signature, wicked
I'm sentimental too. I like a good Coen brothers' picture. Part of this one
fills the bill, just enough to be able to recommend it.
INTOLERABLE CRUELTY runs 1:40. It is rated PG-13 for "sexual content, language
and brief violence" and would be acceptable for kids around 11 and up.
My son Jeffrey, age 14, had mixed feelings about the movie and gave it ** 1/2.
He liked Clooney and Zeta-Jones's romantic comedy parts but thought the rest of
the story was too often weird. He remarked that some scenes, particularly
those featuring a tubed up octogenarian, looked like they belonged in another
Copyright © 2003 Steve Rhodes