For every "Fargo" and "Blood Simple," there is a "Raising Arizona" or a "O'
Brother, Where Art Thou?" In other words, the Coen Brothers can be at their
best in their film noir mode, as proven with their last great film, "The Man
Who Wasn't There," or they can create comic inanities the size of the moon,
especially "Raising Arizona." "Intolerable Cruelty" is the Coens in their
inanely comic mode with bizarre sequences and histrionic acting. It worked in
"Big Lebowski" but here, it results in a humdrum disaster.
As is the case with most movies nowadays, "Intolerable Cruelty" starts off
well. In the opening sequence, Geoffrey Rush plays a ponytailed TV producer who
finds his wife cheating on him with the pool cleaner (a scene not unlike
"Mulholland Dr." where a film director finds his wife in bed with the pool
cleaner). Rush goes berserk, gets stabbed by his wife, starts shooting at her,
and then calmly takes pictures of his butt so he can sue her in court. Then we
are treated to a delightful opening credits sequence with Cupids firing arrows
while we hear Elvis Presley's "Suspicious Minds."
I thought we were in for a real treat. I was wrong.
George Clooney plays a cold-hearted divorce lawyer named Miles Massey, who is
as concerned with the whiteness of his teeth as he is with the law or his fool
proof prenup (one used in law school apparently). When he is in court, he is
king of the hill. He oversees so many divorce cases that he is likely to lose
his marbles (of course, the Coens show him off his rocker from the start). Then
he becomes seriously smitten one day with Marylin Rexroth (Catherine
Zeta-Jones), a serial divorcee seeking separation from her philandering husband
(Edward Herrmann, looking more foolish than ever). Of course, Massey falls for
Marylin's charms quickly, after winning the case against her, to the point that
he would marry her and forgo his ironclad Massey prenup. But then Marylin
marries some Texas oil tycoon (Billy Bob Thornton), whose manner of speech is
as incomprehensible as the rest of the movie.
"Intolerable Cruelty" could be the Coens' own homage to the screwball comedy
genre, a genre worth commemorating with the likes of classics such as "Bringing
Up Baby" and "His Girl Friday." Unfortunately the film is hardly funny and
seems to coast on the swagger and overexaggerated expressions of its stars,
including George Clooney. I knew something was off when Clooney spends a lot of
time fretting over his teeth, a trait not likely to be found in any of the
leading men of the past. At least Zeta-Jones plays down the exaggeration, much
to her benefit. She is a becalming presence, as sensuous, iridescent and
glamorous as an actress can get. Her performance is the sole saving grace of
this endless, deadly bore.
The rest of the cast acts funny, mugging excessively to the camera. Sometimes
they speak in hushed tones, sometimes they scream out their lines. Some of the
dialogue is clever, but you'd be hard-pressed to understand every bit of it.
There is a cantankerous aging lawyer, strapped to a chair with tubes to keep
him alive, who offers legal advice to Clooney - a Coens invention to be sure
but I missed every word he said. Then there is an asthmatic hit man! Oh, yes,
and then there is the private investigator (Cedric the Entertainer) who takes
pictures of philandering husbands and wives caught with their pants down. All
these characters are stripped of emotion, humanity or wit - they are like
automatons operated by remote control.
"Intolerable Cruelty" looks like it was assembled out of outtakes and, to quote
Andrew Dice Clay (!), it is all about as funny as a bottle of milk. It is a
grueling, embarrassingly frustrating experience - all the more so for the
Copyright © 2003 Jerry Saravia