C-level Coen Bros. is better than the "A" game of most other directors.
That's what you get in "Hail, Caesar!" which has the feel of something Joel and Ethan scribbled together on a cocktail napkin while drunk, then Snapchatted to the studio to get a greenlight by the time they paid off their tab.
The brothers are capable of elevated, pop culture-dominating comedies such as "Fargo," "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" and "The Big Lebowski," but are not above rounding up their famous pals to make dumb comedies just for fun, strictly for their own amusement.
"Hail, Caesar!" seems to have been made primarily for one reason -- for the joy and hilarity of Channing Tatum dressed up in a sailor outfit, leading a group tap dance atop bar tables as an angry barkeeper chases him around.
It's the type of timeless blowout that cigar-chomping producers used to base entire films around back in the days of Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire. And it's just right for the total package offered by this movie, which is a love letter and mockery of the olden studio days, where actors were bought, sold and traded, gossip columnists rolled like queens and actresses vanished for months on "vacations" to deliver and adopt away love children.
George Clooney stars as aloof megastar Baird Whitlock, who gets kidnapped by altruistic film industry communists, forcing studio hatchet man Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin) to scramble to keep the "Ben-Hur"-style blockbuster afloat and the press off the scent of trouble.
Mannix rather enjoys his time with his courteous red captors, engaging in philosophical, salon-style banter about workers' rights and the crushing tendencies of capitalist pigs. The most fevered debate: Whether or not it's morally right for Mannix to demand a cut of his ransom.
That's the least inconsequential plotline in a string of other featherweight goings-on. There's screen goddess DeeAnna Moran (Scarlett Johansson), who is trying to stay one step ahead of a scandal, cowpoke screen singer Hobie Doyle (Alden Ehrenreich), who is pulled into a chamber drama and displays his incredible lack of acting ability and Tatum as Burt Gurney, who tap dances around a secret that would have made Joseph McCarthy drool. Mannix is at the center of the storm of egos, trying to keep it all together while committing sins against his Catholic guilt that send him to confession once every few hours.
The Coens use their immense wit and storytelling abilities to jab at issues that were big 60 years ago but are no longer of much consequence. There is just as much a sense of wistfulness for the old studio system -- when "pictures" were the end-all of the entertainment world -- as there is relief that society has advanced past the boorish ways of the past.
As Coen Bros. movies go, "Hail, Caesar!" is a lackluster disappointment. There are no brilliant lines to chew on and slap atop memes, and no characters to sear their way into your consciousness in the manner of Anton Chigurh.
But there is that dance scene, and there are top-notch actors dressed in ridiculous costumes, chewing on effortlessly sweet dialogue that rushes the experience past your eyes in the way all the Brothers movies do. All hail the Coens, but you're OK to wait til it's on Redbox for this one.
RATING: 2.5 Stars out of 4