Even great filmmakers have their off moments. Some strong recent evidence of that fact is the Coen Brothers 2016 film HAIL, CAESAR!
Josh Brolin stars as Studio head Eddie Mannix, juggling a million Hollywood problems a day and finding it necessary to hit the confession booth at least once every 24 hours.
One of the studio's biggest (and dumbest) stars is Baird Whitlock, well played by George Clooney. When Whitlock is kidnapped in the middle of filming a massive bible epic (think Ben Hur) Eddie at first thinks Whitlock just wondered off drunk, but it turns out he's been taken to a secret cliff side mansion where he (and we) are subjected to communist philosophy and a failed attempt to humorize the McCarthy studio witch hunts.
Meanwhile (thankfully) we meet Scarlett Johansson as Esther Williams knockoff Deanna Moran, a tough talking, Brooklyn born starlett that never quite makes a splash and Channing Tatum as Burt Gurney, a tough guy with a talent for song and dance.
The best sequence in the film is a classic routine in the spirit of the classic MGM musicals in which Tatum and troop show off a lot of dancing and singing talent in a show stopping song and dance number.
The only other bright spot of the film is discovering Alden Ehrenreich as Hobie Doyle, a Cowboy star whose adventures off screen match his horse bound heroics on screen.
Ehrenreich has been cast as the young Han Solo in an upcoming Star Wars film and he convinces you why here, with the looks and swagger to match a young Harrison Ford. He's terrific and holds your attention everytime he's on screen.
Which is a good thing, because for 75% of this film, I really didn't care what was happening, didn't understand what was happening or was too busy dozing off to invest any effort.
Joel and Ethan Coen have made some of my favorite films of all time. From "Blood Simple" to "No Country For Old Men" all the way to some of their smaller films like "Inside Llewyn Davis", which was one of my favorite films of 2013, the Coens are some of the most consistently brilliant writer/director combos in film history.
But here.....I felt like there was a two and a half hour story here that was screaming to be told. Like a first time editor was forced to cut an hour out of the film to hit its 106 minute running time.
Actors Tilda Swinton and Jonah Hill come and go. Ralph Fiennes has a brilliant role as a stuffy director that delivers huge laughs and then disappears.
Look at the scene where Fiennes director Laurence Laurentz is trying to direct Hobie (Ehrenreich) in his first upscale period film. Hobie's never acted without a horse and Laurentz has never been so frustrated. The verbal wordplay, editing and performances are perfect and for three minutes you enjoy a film on the level of any other Coen effort.
But then, the moment slips away and you drift from story to story in aimless tedium.
There's nothing emphatic about the journey. The exclamation point in the title might be the least appropriate use of punctuation since the Jeb! Bush bumper stickers.
Lights, camera, disappointment.
This Caesar hails a C-.