Hail, Caesar! has all the joy of drinking diluted apple cider vinegar: there’s an undercurrent of mild bitterness, but none of the punch. The latest feature Joel and Ethan Coen, this uneven Hollywood satire feels less like one of their smart, signature capers than it does a vapid Wes Anderson dollhouse set piece. Framed as a “day in the life” of harried 1950s studio fixer Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin), we’re introduced to him as he lays bare in a confession booth. Moments later, he’s walloping a young ingénue twice in the face for getting suckered into posing for a shady photo shoot. He’s somehow positioned as our moral center in this circus, even as he puppeteers fake adoptions for pregnant starlets and shoehorns shiny-eyed bumpkins into leading man material. On the horizon, a job offer from a straight-and-narrow firm promises better hours and more time at home his family. What will Mannix choose? More importantly, do we care?
Promotions have centered on the mysterious kidnapping of Mannix’ biggest star (George Clooney at his most airheaded.) In truth, it’s only one of several meandering vignettes featuring brief cameos from recognizable stars in lieu of developed characters. A comedy light on laughs, the Coens rely heavily on the mere image of these blink-and-you-miss-them familiar faces, as well as several moments of joke repetition that pulverizes any glint of humor. It seems as though every player involved is asleep at the wheel, with the exception of Channing Tatum, whose rousing dance sequence is the film’s one true delight. As the story lurches forward, you’ll suddenly understand why this film was released just in time to miss awards season.