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Hail Caesar

Fifty Shades Of Black

February 4, 2016

Hail Caesar (** ½) PG-13

The brothers Coen, Joel and Ethan, have returned with their first effort since the critically acclaimed 2013 feature Inside Llewyn Davis and the results are so so at best. Hail Caesar is one of those films that desperately wants to be a cogent sendup of 1950s era Hollywood and the type of studio pictures that were cranked out with regularity by the studio systems of the day, back in that less enlightened time period. The trouble is that the Coen Brothers are clearly so enamored with the idea of recreating the look and feel of the type of product that played regularly on movie screens some sixty years ago that they forget to give the audience characters that they can care about or even remember after the experience of seeing the film has come and gone. Hail Caesar has promise but squanders it with scenes that play out needlessly longer than they should and a story that really doesn’t offer the typical charms found in a Coen Brothers’ film. It’s not as bad as some of their lesser efforts such as Intolerable Cruelty or The Ladykillers but make no mistake, this is definitely second tier Coen Brothers’ product.

If Hail Caesar is a mixed affair­—and it clearly is that—I’ll mention the good first. On the positive side of things, the film is a triumph of production design in its recreation of the films of the mid 1950s era.

Hail Caesar: George Clooney in full goofball mode

It’s hard not to get caught up in the Coens’ obvious affection for the films that made such and impression on them in their formative years. The loving, impeccable attention to detail exhibited here­—beautifully lensed by the Coens’ frequent collaborator, Roger Deakins—goes a long way in masking the film’s many story flaws.

On the negative side of things, however, the basic story of the film just doesn’t ever seem to give the payoff that one expects. The takeaway from the film is little to nothing. After the screening was over I found myself hard pressed to name more than one or two characters in the film, which is a testament as to just how disposable they were. The film reeks of more of an excuse for the Coens to play in their filmmaking sandbox as opposed to crafting a film that’s likely to stay with the viewer.

The basic plot of the film involves Capitol Pictures studio head, Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin, whose character is based on and named for a real Hollywood executive & ‘fixer’ of the 1950s), who has the task of finding the whereabouts of the leading star of his latest picture (George Clooney) after said star has been kidnapped. The film veers off into dull digressions before eventually reaching its conclusion but aside from a few atypically great snatches of dialogue it’s not one of the Coens’ finer moments. Diehard fans may feel differently but it would be hard not to argue the point the filmmaking siblings seem to be slumming it. (Also in the cast: Scarlett Johansson, Tilda Swinton, Channing Tatum, Frances McDormand, Ralph Fiennes, Jonah Hill and many other current film stars. Ed.)

Fifty Shades of Black (**) R

While it would be true to say that the latest cinematic skewering of a pop culture fad, Fifty Shades of Black, is better than the actual film from which it was inspired—and it is—let’s remember just how low I would be setting the bar by making that statement. In fact one of the film’s funniest scenes occurs when the film’s star, Marlon Wayans, is shown reading excerpts from the original Fifty Shades of Grey novel and asking the audience, ‘Who wrote this, a third grader?’ While some may be inclined to ask that same question upon closer inspection of the script of this film, let’s just say that FSOB does hit the occasional bullseye from time to time. For those less discriminating fans in a certain frame of mind, perhaps that will be enough to keep them satisfied for what felt like a very long 91 minute running time to yours truly.

It’s worth noting that the raunch factor is extremely high in FSOB. I’m no prude, mind you, but the problem with a film that insists on constantly wallowing in its filth is that it all simply becomes boring after awhile.

Kali Hawk & Marlon Wayans in FSOB

Then again I suppose satire would be too much to ask for in a film such as this. The constant stream of jokes regarding the size of the manhood of the male characters in the film becomes a bit tiresome and redundant after about what seemed like the fiftieth time. Marlon Wayans is no stranger to this type of excess but I don’t recall the ratio of bodily function jokes being so high in his previous film parody, A Haunted House, and its subsequent sequel. The best jokes in the film are the ones that attempt to do something other than going straight for the cheap and easy laughs.

It’s interesting to note that from a plot standpoint FSOB actually follows the template of the original novel and film wherein the mousey Hannah Steale (Kali Hawk, doing a dead on impression of the Anna Steele character in the original) falls for the mysterious tycoon, Christian (Wayans). The only difference is the character is named Christian Black in this film as opposed to Christian Grey in the original film and book, not that it takes a genius to figure that one out.

Amid the constant onslaught penis jokes and such, the film actually does attempt to make a stab of social commentary of some sort. This occurs during the final section where Hannah turns the tables and whips Christian as punishment for injustices inflicted upon African American female characters in recent films. This is somewhat humorous but it’s all a little too much, too late, serving to remind the viewer how much better the film could have been had Wayans and company injected a bit of this gallows humor earlier. That would have taken effort, something of which this film exhibits little.

Hail Caesar opens Thursday at the Carmike and everywhere. Fifty Shades of Black is now playing everywhere.

Questions or comments? Write Adam at filmfan1970@hotmail.com.

 

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