[Screen It]


(2016) (Josh Brolin, George Clooney) (PG-13)

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Comedy: A 1950s era Hollywood studio executive must contend with juggling lots of movies and stars, and the headaches that accompany both, as well as the abduction of one of his leading men.
Eddie Mannix (JOSH BROLIN) is a studio exec for Capitol Pictures in 1950s era Hollywood. His job is to keep the studio's various in-production movies on schedule and their various stars out of trouble, especially with the likes of twin gossip columnists Thora Thacker (TILDA SWINTON) and Thessaly Thacker (TILDA SWINTON) always hovering about for dirt they can publish.

Among those he must keep in line is Baird Whitlock (GEORGE CLOONEY), a big star known for his boozing and womanizing ways who's appearing in a film about Christ as seen through the eyes of a Roman Tribune. Things become complicated when a group of Hollywood communists known as "The Future" kidnap the actor and demand a $100,000 ransom, unaware that the star might be easily persuaded over to their way of thinking.

Back on the studio lot, Western star Hobie Doyle (ALDEN EHRENREICH) has been shoehorned into a period costume drama, something that doesn't sit well with its proper, elitist director, Laurence Laurentz (RALPH FIENNES), and makes the film's editor, C.C. Calhoun (FRANCES McDORMAND), have to try to work around the actor's limitations.

On another lot, Burt Gurney (CHANNING TATUM) is appearing in a movie musical about sailors, while starlet DeeAnna Moran (SCARLETT JOHANSSON) is starring in an Esther Williams type swimming pool movie but has revealed she's pregnant by a man whose identity she can't be sure of, meaning Eddie must turn to fall guy lawyer Joseph Silverman (JONAH HILL) for help.

As all of that transpires, he must also contend with a lucrative job offer from Mr. Cuddahy (IAN BLACKMAN) who's trying to entice the fixer to jump professions and land over in the aviation industry.

OUR TAKE: 4 out of 10
Various films have featured the Hollywood moviemaking system as the backdrop for their stories, and they often prove popular with both those inside that world and those on the outside looking in, hoping for a glimpse of the magic, if you will, that goes on behind the scenes.

Some such movies take that a step further and go back in time to recreate what such a world was like during the "golden age" of filmmaking. One of my favorite ones, mainly because it took an incredibly imaginative and unique slant on just that, has always been "Who Framed Roger Rabbit."

That's the 1988 Robert Zemeckis film where animated cartoon characters -- called toons -- populated the world alongside their flesh and blood counterparts. The fun was in the send-up of said animated figures and how they were just actors and actresses doing their thing -- with all of the same peculiarities, issues and such that human performers possess -- coupled with an engaging story and lots of glorious homage to moviemaking of old.

Siblings Joel and Ethan Coen -- the brotherly duo behind classic films such as "Fargo," "No Country For Old Men," "The Big Lebowski" and "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" among many others -- are seemingly try to tap into something similar, minus the toons, in their period comedy, "Hail, Caesar!" Alas, while it has some fun moments and features a star-studded cast, it's a disjointed and disappointing mess that might have seemed liked a slam dunk on paper, but misses the mark in filmed form.

Had Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin) appeared in "Roger Rabbit," he likely would have known Bob Hoskins' Eddie Valiant as both men are cut from the same post WWII masculine mold. In this story, however, rather than being a private detective hired to see if a movie star's wife is cheating on him, this Eddie is a studio exec who fixes problems as they arise.

For starters, his studio, Capitol Pictures, has mounted a lavish retelling of Christ's life through the eyes of a Roman Tribune in a movie that features the same title as the one in which it appears and stars the hugely popular Baird Whitlock (George Clooney). While Eddie believes the biggest problem is making sure the religious aspects pass muster with leaders of various religions, his new headache arrives in the form of his star being kidnapped from the set (initially by two men, including one played by Wayne "Newman!" Knight who vanishes thereafter from the story). Those responsible, known as "The Future," turn out to be communist Hollywood writers and such who don't like or appreciate the economics of the studio system.

Another film on the set involves a starlet (Scarlett Johansson) who's appearing in an Esther Williams type swimming pool movie but has a bud in the oven, something Eddie knows must be keep secret from sisterly twins (both played by Tilda Swinton) who work in varying reporting styles in the world of celebrity gossip.

Meanwhile, the studio head has decided its signature Western star (Alden Ehrenreich) should appear in a proper costume drama, but the actor's southern twang clashes with the uppity director (Ralph Fiennes) and how he thinks the dialogue should be delivered. And on another set, Channing Tatum appears in a "South Pacific" sort of sailor musical where the actor (in real life) proves he should be cast in such a period musical pronto.

That's a lot of material the filmmakers -- working from their own script -- have thrown up onto the screen, and doesn't even include smaller bits featuring Jonah Hill as a lawyer who will take the fall for his clients to get them out of trouble; Ian Blackman as an aviation industry head hunter who wants Eddie to jump professions; and Frances McDormand as a feisty, locked away film editor.

Aside from Brolin and, to a lesser extent, Clooney, most of the performers aren't afforded the time or material to do much with their characters, and thus the film feels scattershot at best. A few moments are fun or funny, and I most enjoyed Ehrenreich doing his cowboy bit. Unfortunately, there are plenty of others that simply drag along for too long and aren't as entertaining as all involved think they are or at least envisioned.

I appreciate what the Coens were going for, but it simply doesn't work well enough to earn any sort of recommendation. In the end, I doubt many will be proclaiming "hail" to "Hail, Caesar!" It rates as a 4 out of 10.

Reviewed February 2, 2016 / Posted February 5, 2016

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