‘Hail, Caesar!’ Review | Lights! Camera! Elation!

There’s an image that everyone has of a studio backlot, one that is full of extras in gladiator outfits and old-timey sailor suits and feathered showgirl bikinis. It’s a ridiculous lie, but ridiculousness never stopped The Coen Brothers. Hail, Caesar! plays like they took the extras from every bad inside-Hollywood movie and gave them all their own film, celebrating all the misfit personalities who populate the sound stages and make that very strange environment their very strange home.

So we have the podunk Hobie Doyle (Alden Ehrenreich), great with a lasso and sweet with a song, but terrible with words. We have the luminous DeeAnna Moran (Scarlett Johansson), a water nymph capable of wooing the heart, but pregnant and smoking up a chimney and eager to find a halfway reasonable third or fourth husband. We have the shockingly talented Baird Whitlock (George Clooney), whose unusual skill with a monologue belies his affable ignorance. And the cast goes on and on and on, spiraling with aplomb.

Universal Pictures

Universal Pictures

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Hail, Caesar! is their story, seen through the eyes of Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin), a fixer who works 24/7 to keep the dreams flowing freely out of Hollywood. He’s got a better offer on the table, a job at Lockheed with folks who aren’t out of their cotton-picking minds, but he can’t extricate himself from the mania of the Golden Age studio system long enough to seriously consider it. He’s too busy solving other people’s problems to think about his own, and he’s seemingly oblivious to the loyalty his selfless gig has inspired in the talented thespians and filmmakers who now make up his latchkey family.

There’s a plot in Hail, Caesar! in which Baird Whitlock gets kidnapped (by whom I will not say, other than it’s mildly offensive and wildly funny), but The Coen Brothers are more concerned with sightseeing. Hail, Caesar! is brimming with the sort of inspired lunacy some of us still miss from their Hudsucker Proxy days, with fast-talk and pratfalls and musical numbers of the silliest variety imaginable. That their new film isn’t consistently “zippy” may be its greatest failing, but there are worse sins and The Coen Brothers haven’t committed any of them here.

Universal Pictures

Universal Pictures

Yes, the plot stalls a bit, and perhaps it would have been more satisfying to see every single one of Mannix’s ragtag gang of filmmakers come to his aid in the finale. But Hail, Caesar! isn’t an important story. It’s just a day in the life, and what a wonderful day it is. The cast is uniformly perfect, especially Alden Ehrenreich (who should have been the next big thing years ago, and is clearly overdue for the limelight). And then of course there’s Channing Tatum as Burt Gurney, a spot-on Gene Kelly stand-in who’s got all the right moves and then some, but not enough screen time.

Fans of old school Hollywood history, or anyone who has ever vegged out watching Turner Classic Movies, will have a wonderful time with Hail, Caesar! It may not rank amongst The Coen Brothers’ best work, but few films do. It’s still a high-spirited comedy of the highest order, smart and hilarious, and overflowing with heart. Hail, indeed.

Top Photo: Universal Pictures

William Bibbiani (everyone calls him ‘Bibbs’) is Crave’s film content editor and critic. You can hear him every week on The B-Movies Podcast and watch him on the weekly YouTube series Most Craved and What the Flick. Follow his rantings on Twitter at @WilliamBibbiani.