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A review of Intolerable Cruelty

click to enlarge Miles Massey (George Clooney) has the hots for Marilyn Rexroth (Catherine Zeta-Jones), who is plotting revenge against him.
  • Miles Massey (George Clooney) has the hots for Marilyn Rexroth (Catherine Zeta-Jones), who is plotting revenge against him.

*Intolerable Cruelty (PG-13)
Universal Pictures

This is neither the wackiest of Coen Brothers comedies, nor the most touching. It isn't the hootenanny that was O, Brother, Where Art Thou? or the American classic that was Fargo. It's merely a decent comedy with a script slightly impaired by too many writers, but with a handful of spectacular one-liners, a gaggle of good gags and perfect casting in the lead roles.

The supporting players aren't too shabby either. The film opens with a withering take on the Simon and Garfunkel classic, "The Boxer," bellowed by Geoffrey Rush in a bad ponytail as he speeds around the streets of Beverly Hills in a blue convertible, headed home to his very own mansion. He is Donovan Donaly, and we discover he's a television producer when his wife, who has recently cuckolded him, defends herself in a bedroom melee with a flashy statue. "Hey," he yells when she stabs him in the ass with it, "that's my Daytime Television Lifetime Achievement Award!"

The wife in question hires hotshot attorney Miles Massey (George Clooney) to represent her in a divorce case, and in spite of the fact that she has no case, she wins all of Donaly's assets. Massey's a huckster with the confident appearance of a game-show host. He has a habit of checking out his own white teeth in the mirror. He's a winner in the courtroom, renowned in the field for the Massey prenuptial agreement -- a contract so solid it has never been cracked. But Massey is suffering a midlife crisis; his work doesn't fill the void that's growing in his hardened little heart.

Enter Marilyn Rexroth (Catherine Zeta-Jones), the soon-to-be ex-wife of Massey's millionaire client Rex Rexroth (Edward Herrmann). When Miles works his magic in court, exposing Marilyn as an opportunist and winning the case for Rex, sparks begin to fly. She starts planning her vengeance and he, his romantic pursuit of the only woman in the world who fascinates him. He's further intrigued when she appears in his office with her new catch, zillionaire fianc Howard Doyle, a Texas oilman played to the hilt by Billy Bob Thornton. She wants to sign a Massey pre-nup. Massey doesn't know what to make of it until he attends the wedding where, ceremoniously, Doyle rips the pre-nup into bite-sized pieces, dips them in barbecue sauce and eats them, demonstrably declaring his undying devotion to the lovely Marilyn.

Predictably, Marilyn takes Doyle to the cleaners and wins his fortune. But to expose any more of the story would be telling too much. Suffice it to say that the plot, which has moved rather slowly up to this point, picks up speed as Massey's obsession with Marilyn grows. Clooney and Zeta-Jones play the sexual tension buildup the way a great pitcher works a batter with two outs and two men on base. They're gorgeous. She's impermeable. He's down for the count.

The Coens can't resist throwing in a handful of delicious tidbits to up the screwball ante. The waiting room magazine in Massey's wizened boss's office is Living Without Intestines. The private investigator who catches infidels in the act for Massey is Gus Petch, played by Cedric the Entertainer, wielding a video camera, smashing through motel doors and filming extramarital hijinks while gleefully yelling: "We go'n nail yo' ass!" A hitman nicknamed Wheezy Joe sucks on an inhaler while doing his business. It's all in good fun, with a well-turned if over-the-top commentary on the divorce industry, fabulous lingering shots of Zeta-Jones' creamy skin and a pleasing dose of George Clooney doing what he does best -- acting for the Coen Brothers.

-- Kathryn Eastburn

Tinseltown, Cinemark 16

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