Intolerable Cruelty
2003
Attorney Miles goes toe-to-toe with his wealthy client's ex-wife, expert gold-digger Marylin, in this battle-of-the-sexes comedy. Just when Marylin thinks she's cinched another fortune, she's defeated by the "Massey pre-nup" and schemes to get even.

Scott Hardie: “It was ok.”

This is what you expect it to be, a funny film with rich supporting characters, but a sub-par effort from the Coen brothers, who fell under studio influence here, not to mention are not working from their own script.

What's good about the film is the delightful banter between the characters; it reminds us how little great repartee we hear in movies any more. All of the actors are good in their roles, especially note-perfect George Clooney, who plays this character with the ease of getting dressed in the morning. (I remember reading when "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" came out that the Coens were planning to direct a film about a fatuous lawyer blinded by his own self-love, and had already made up their minds that Clooney was perfect for it.) I got numerous laughs out of the little references, the double-takes, the perfect timing of so many scenes. It is good comedy, skillfully done.

What hurts the film more than it should is the overkill. Too many scenes are wound up with loud music or cartoony payoffs or asinine movie clich├ęs that got old decades ago. Clooney's assistant, played by Ted Raimi look-alike Paul Adelstein, is given material that practically requires him to turn to the camera and scream, "Laugh! This is funny!" The plot is also predictable, partly because this is a traditional screwball comedy and partly because the trailers gave away nearly every turn.

[Spoilers in this paragraph.] The worst offense, however, is that there is little romance in this romantic comedy. Given that the entire second and third acts depend on Clooney falling in love with Catherine Zeta-Jones, it's awfully convenient that he does so with absolutely zero romantic conversation between them. The Coens are welcome to make an ironic comedy in which the characters believably fall into lust or infatuation, but here they expect us to accept that these two really do fall in love after spending ninety minutes establishing that A) neither one seems capable of it, B) neither one trusts the other for a second, and C) there is no such thing as love in their business. It's the wrong way to go with a movie like this, especially with these directors.

This film is recommended to those with an ear for good dialogue, and open-minded Coen fans who don't mind the brothers making a commercial misstep. It's not terrible, but it's hardly the best work from anybody involved.

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