After the success of O Brother, Where Art Thou?, it comes as no surprise that the combination of the Coen brothers and George Clooney come together for another project.
George Clooney is Miles Massey, a lawyer who has made millions with his Massey Pre-Nup, a prenuptial agreement that is so water-tight that it has never been cracked. Anyone with a Massey Pre-Nup is completely protected from any sort of gold-digging woman (or man) that they might have the misfortune of getting married to.
After some extra-curricular activity on the part of a TV producer’s wife, she approaches Miles for representation in her divorce. Miles’ divorce strategy is to suggest that it was her husband (Geoffrey Rush) who was having the affair with the pool man instead of her. Guess who wins?
Soon Rex Rexroth (Edward Herrmann) seeks the council of Miles with regards to his own divorce. Unfortunately for Rex, his wife Marylin (Catherine Zeta-Jones), had hired a sleazy private investigator who enjoys shouting “I nailed your ass” whilst catching people’s indiscretions on video. The P.I (played with great enthusiasm by Cedric The Entertainer) has managed to catch Rex on tape with a young lady playing the ‘train game’ and it seems that Marylin can take the wealthy industrialist to the proverbial cleaners.
While Rex has hired Miles, Marylin hires his nemesis and professional rival Freddy Bender (Richard Jenkins) who believes that he cannot loose with such evidence in Marylin’s favour. Unfortunately for Freddy, Miles manages to spring a surprise witness who reveals that Marylin is a gold-digger who entered into the marriage solely for the monetary benefits from the divorce and as a result she ends up with absolutely nothing.
Not one to give up easily, Marylin almost immediately manages to get herself engaged to the eccentric oil millionaire Howard D. Doyle (Billy Bob Thornton) and surprisingly arrives at Miles’ office to make him sign one of the famous Massey Pre-Nup contracts. Confused by this tactic, Miles becomes increasingly enraptured with the conniving Marylin and finds that his attraction towards Marylin is getting stronger.
Can Miles find true love and will it with be the devious Marylin? However, how can he be sure that she doesn’t have an alternative agenda and what about her impending marriage to Doyle?
Intolerable Cruelty is much more mainstream than any of the previous Coen brothers films and milder in the ironic humour stakes. That’s not to say that it’s no funny; there are some downright hilarious moments.
George Clooney has already shown that he is more than capable of playing quirky characters and he is funny as Miles with his strange obsession with the whiteness of his own teeth and his poetry strewn speeches. His facial expressions are priceless and very reminisant of O Brother, Where Art Thou?. Catherine Zeta-Jones is okay as the gold-digging Marylin (did Michael Douglas have a chill down his back when he watched this? Who knows) and she does have chemistry with Clooney. Luckily they are both supported by a slew of wacky characters with Cedric The Entertainer and Jonathan Hadary (as Heinz, the Baron Krauss von Espy – don’t ask) being the highlights.
The characters start pretty sane to start with but by the end they become more like the characters that dwell in the Coen world such as an asthmatic assassin aptly named Wheezy.
Unfortunately the film does start to lose momentum about halfway as the gags start to become sparser. Some of the scenes do tend to fall flat with sub-par dialogue. Is it because the expectations of a Coen/Clooney pairing were too high? Perhaps, but to be fair Intolerable Cruelty is entertaining enough. If Fargo and O Brother Where Art Thou? are true Coen films, then Intolerable Cruelty is the diet free Coen-Lite version.
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