A review of “Intolerable Cruelty” by Jeanne Aufmuth


Stars: *

Rating: PG-13 for sex, language, and brief violence

Run Time: 1 hour, 38 minutes



The red flag went up almost as soon as the credits moved across the screen. “Cruelty” is not a genuine Coen Brothers product (think “Fargo”), but rather a collaboration of the brothers, extraneous screenwriters, a high-profile producer (Brian Grazer) and a pair of A-list stars at the top of their game.  And it doesn’t work.

How can a romantic comedy starring hunky George Clooney and babelicious Catherine Zeta-Jones miss?  Easily.  Clooney plays fabulously successful Los Angeles divorce attorney Miles Massey, king of the hill and getting a little bored around the edges.  He ostensibly meets his match when he agrees to handle the divorce of Rex Rexroth (Edward Herrmann) and his drop-dead-gorgeous soon-to-be-ex Marylin (Zeta-Jones).

Ms. Rexroth is a serial marry-er and divorce-er, seeking financial independence through good old-fashioned community property laws.  Pit one hardcore professional against a steely, indomitable beauty and watch the sparks fly.  Or not.

Egregious Film Flaw One:  there’s little to no chemistry between Clooney and Zeta-Jones. It doesn’t look like love, it doesn’t feel like love; how can it be love? Clooney plays Massey as over-the-top and relentlessly goofy, ill-befitting a divorce specialist who presents his office to clients as “your war-room for the duration of the campaign”.  He flips over Z-J at first sight, and doesn’t look back when he knows he’s being taken for a ride.  For her part, Z-J looks great, but is merely going through the motions.

Egregious Film Flaw Two:  the script.  You can’t convince me that brilliant scribe Coens were behind this flaccid ode to the tenuous state of matrimony, chock full as it is of awkward repartee and more than a tolerable share of tasteless (and humorless) zingers.

Egregious Film Flaw Three:  throwing in cheap entertainment to ratchet up the laugh track. Yes, I’m referring to Cedric the Entertainer (“Barbershop”), playing a private dick who serves absolutely no useful purpose but to garner cut-rate chuckles.

Color me disappointed.  I see Coens beneath the title and I expect quality black comedy.  As does any cineaste worth his or her stripes.