When it comes to making really bad movies on a truly epic scale, nobody in Hollywood does it better than the Coen brothers. For while Fargo, Raising Arizona and the vastly-underrated The Man Who Wasn’t There are easily three of my all-time favorite films, Joel and Ethan Coen have also been behind two of my least favorite films as well: Intolerable Cruelty and Burn After Reading. And don’t even get me started on their Oscar-nominated A Serious Man. I have tried to make sense of that meandering, pretentious turd more times than I care to remember. And now, the brothers Coen have done it again with the glitzy, A-list misfire Hail, Caesar!
A smug, plotless and ultimately pointless retread of classic entertainment industry in-jokes and existential noir that the brothers have tackled much more artfully in films like Barton Fink and Inside Llewyn Davis, Caesar! might just go down as the worst Coen brothers’ film ever. And when you have a cast that is virtually overflowing with big-name players like George Clooney, Scarlett Johansson, Channing Tatum, Ralph Fiennes, Josh Brolin, Frances McDormand, Jonah Hill and Tilda Swinton playing twins, well, that’s really saying something.
Set in 1950s Hollywood at the height of the “Red Scare”, Caesar! revolves around the chaos that ensues when mega-star Baird Whitlock (Clooney) is abducted from the set of Capitol Pictures’ costly historical epic Hail, Caesar! by an underground communist cell calling themselves The Future. Eager to find Whitlock before the press get wind of his disappearance, studio “fixer” Eddie Mannix (Brolin), who is already grappling with a handful of other Capitol Pictures scandals, quickly finds himself in way over his head. I know that sounds like a pretty killer set up for a Coen Brothers comedy, but, trust me, it’s not.
Sure, Caesar! looks great – especially the painstakingly-recreated homages to Esther Williams water ballets and the singing cowboy westerns of Gene Autry and Roy Rogers – and the sly hat tips to film geek classics like Vertigo, Mildred Pierce and Sunset Boulevard are fun, but stunning production values and a pretty cast will only get you so far. And at the end of the day, Caesar! proves to be just as bad, if not more so, than the bad movies it’s poking fun of, and where’s the fun in that?
That said, there are exactly two reasons to see this bloated mess of a movie. The first is a gut-bustingly funny Gene Kelly-inspired dance number featuring Channing Tatum and a bevy of homoerotic sailors that has to be seen to be believed. And the second is for the performance of newcomer Alden Ehrenreich as singing cowboy Hobie Doyle. You might not be able to spell or even pronounce his name correctly just yet, but, trust me, Caesar! gets 110% better every time Ehrenreich is onscreen.
Funny, handsome, charming, sweet, Ehrenreich steals every scene he’s in and that’s hard to do with a cast like the one the Coen’s have assembled here. Ehrenreich was recently cast as the young Han Solo in Disney’s upcoming Star Wars anthology film and it’s not hard to see why, the dude is destined for greatness.
And this lame, overcooked turkey aside, so are the Coen Brothers. So, better luck next time, boys.
Now playing on select JetBlue, Virgin Atlantic, United, American, ANA and EVA Air flights worldwide, Hail, Caesar! is also available via streaming at iTunes and Google Play.