Intolerable Cruelty

Intolerable Cruelty is a nice throwback to the romantic comedies of yesteryear, where the man battles the woman for supremacy, waging their war through their words. It's the latest film from the Coen brothers Joel and Ethan, and the first time they are working from somebody else's material. They still manage to infuse their bizarre sense of humor into the characters, making a highly enjoyable film that shows some growth in yet another direction for the Coens, yet will probably not appeal to most people who will probably not appreciate the melding of screwball humor with lots and lots and lots of dialogue.

There is so much dialogue that George Clooney and Catherine Zeta-Jones, archenemies in the battle of the sexes, deliver their dialogue at a quick clip. Clooney (Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind) is Miles Massey, a highly successful divorce attorney with a reputation for ruthlessness. Zeta-Jones (Sinbad, Chicago) is Marilyn Rexroth, who is filing for divorce from her husband Rex (Edward Herrman, The Emperor's Club, The Cat's Meow). Massey represents Rex, and despite the fact that Marilyn has taped evidence of Rex's infidelity, the opinion of the court goes overwhelmingly in favor of Rex. Marilyn's ice queen demeanor fascinates Massey, who decides that she is the perfect woman for him. Thus begins their sparring, as they play mind games with each other. Massey wants Marilyn to fall in love with him, while Marilyn's actual intentions most likely lean towards the monetary.

She quickly becomes engaged to oil tycoon Howard D. Doyle (Billy Bob Thornton, Levity, Waking Up in Reno), a total buffoon, which only piques Massey's fascination. This time, she hires Massey to write up a prenuptial for her, fully aware of Massey's infatuation, which only serves to rile Massey further. Their weird mind games continue, but begin to lose their sheen as Intolerable Cruelty nears its conclusion. Going off a story by Robert Ramsey and Matthew Stone (Big Trouble, Life) and John Romano, director/co-writer Joel and co-writer Ethan (The Man Who Wasn't There, O Brother, Where Art Thou?) and Ramsey and Stone craft a script that slowly loses steam. The set-up is far more elaborate than how things eventually play out. Sadly, the back-and-forth begins to get exasperating, and by the time the final twists start coming, it feels more tired than nothing else.

This should not detract from the excellent performances, especially from Clooney. With this and O Brother, he shows that he can play the doofus, and he sure plays it well. One of the running gags here is that he is obsessed with his shiny white teeth. It's also amusing how he continuously verbally manipulates an exasperated Freddy Bender (Richard Jenkins, The Core, Stealing Harvard). Jenkins is amusing to watch, as is Thornton, Cedric the Entertainer (Serving Sara, Barbershop) and many of the smaller, strange assortment of quirky characters. Zeta-Jones has to play the straight woman, so while she is nowhere as goofy as everybody else, she is effectively cold and calculating. Of course, Clooney and Zeta-Jones are also unbelievably beautiful, and the Coens' use of bright colors to bring this odd world to life only shift additional focus on the two stars. So while Intolerable Cruelty begins to lag at the end, the vast majority of it is pretty enjoyable.

Haro Rates It: Pretty Good.
1 hour, 40 minutes, Rated PG-13 for sexual content, brief language, and brief violence.

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