Though funny, “Hail, Caesar” overstuffed, unfocused


Courtesy of Universal Pictures

Sam Svoboda, Entertainment Editor

“Hail, Caesar” follows Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin), a Hollywood “fixer” at fictional 1950s movie studio Capital Pictures. As per his job title, he goes around fixing the image of the studio by marrying off actors, consoling complaining directors and fending of nosy reporters. He also tries, in vain, to fix the plot of the film, which is ultimately a series of disparate elements simultaneously leading to nothing.

Not that those elements aren’t interesting–some of them are hilarious. Mega movie star Baird Whitlock (George Clooney), starring in the prestige picture that “Hail, Caesar” is named after, gets captured by friendly Communists. Actor Hobie Doyle (Alden Ehrenreich), who usually stars in shallow Westerns, takes on a dramatic Broadway adaptation. Water dancer DeeAnna Moran (Scarlett Johansson), innocent in the eyes of the public, in truth is a pregnant loudmouth with the father in question.

But the film is overstuffed with these kinds of great ideas, which disallows them from reaching dramatic significance, and disallows the entire film from reaching real closure. It is fun to watch Eddie Mannix do his job, but he never focuses on anything but the task at hand, and never has an existential struggle that isn’t superficial. Like the audience, Mannix focuses on the ridiculous world he inhabits.

It would be incorrect to say “Hail, Caesar” is centered around Mannix, even as it follows him. Yes, he’s the most consistent part of the film, close-up shots of his watch marking the passage of time, his walk-and-talks with his secretary through the bustle of Capital Pictures giving us most of the story’s expository information. But in all truth, Mannix is actually the orbiting body, while the film’s setting is the planet in the center. That planet is Old Hollywood, that is Tinseltown, all superficial and sumptuous and unsubtle. Unfortunately, those are also pretty good descriptors for this movie.

“Hail, Caesar” has been penned an entry into the comedic Coen canon, separate for their more serious fare. But like the Brother’s movies are split between the two categories, the execution of this movie is also split. There’s “Hail Caesar” the breezy, ridiculous comedy and “Hail Caesar” as a nihilistic satire on religion and communism. The first film is worth watching. The second nearly ruins the first.