There's nothing intolerable at all about "Intolerable Cruelty," the latest from the Coen brothers. And come to think of it, what cruelty there is in this movie is thankfully inflicted on the characters and not the audience.
In fact, it's more than just tolerable. "Intolerable Cruelty" is one of the funnier comedies to come down the road in quite some time, and this sharply observant film also has surprising warmth and heart.
However, because of that, the film may come as something of a surprise to longtime fans of the Coens, who may not be expecting to see a film that is so conventional. (Even though other supposedly "conventional" Coen comedies include "Big Lebowski" and "Raising Arizona.")
Still, they handle it as well as anything they've done in their career. And even if this one doesn't rank among their best, it's still solidly entertaining. Besides, it affords yet another great comic role for George Clooney, who teamed with the Coens for "O Brother, Where Art Thou?"
Clooney stars here as Miles Massey, an extremely successful Hollywood divorce attorney who's going through a bit of a midlife crisis. He's has become bored with his job, and the only thing that's even come close to fascinating him lately is the beautiful but avaricious Marylin Rexroth (Catherine Zeta-Jones), the ex-wife of his latest client, millionaire Rex Rexroth (Edward Herrmann).
The catch is, he's just helped her philandering ex escape from their marital bonds with his millions still intact. So naturally, she wants nothing to do with the man who just cost her a fortune.
But Miles still has her on his mind, even when she shows up later with a new betrothed in tow, Howard D. Doyle (Billy Bob Thornton), a Texas oilman who wants her to sign one of Miles' iron-clad pre-nuptial agreements before they're married.
For a change, the Coens share directing credit (Joel typically receives sole credit in that capacity) and are working from someone else's script (they're just two of four credited screenwriters).
That said, "Intolerable Cruelty" still looks and sounds like one of their original works (as usual, the humor ranges from deadpan to dark). And it scarcely feels as long as its relatively brief 98 minutes.
As for the cast, Clooney again seems to be relishing playing a con man of sorts (his character here could be a descendant of his "O Brother" character). And he and Zeta-Jones smolder onscreen together. Members of the supporting cast all get moments to shine as well, especially Paul Adelstein, who plays Miles' overly romantic law partner.
"Intolerable Cruelty" is rated PG-13 for occasional use of strong profanity (including one usage of the so-called "R-rated" curse word, crude sexual humor (references, innuendo and double-entendres), violence (gunplay, animal attacks and a bludgeoning, most of it slapstick) and a brief sex scene. Running time: 98 minutes.
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