Intolerable Cruelty is a perfect example of missed opportunities. Catherine Zeta-Jones and George Clooney’s onscreen performance sizzles only to be subdued by a script that feels a bit too familiar.
Joel and Ethan Coen (Fargo and The Man Who Wasn’t There) have been known for creating stories with edgy and irrevevent humor that passes under Hollywood’s radar, but Cruelty is their stab at making a mainstream comedy.
The Coen brothers manage to make Cruelty an entertaining watch, but fans of their previous work will surely be disappointed as the film lacks all elements that made the brothers’ movies unique.
Clooney returns to the same old character — a sly guy with his eye’s on the prize (Zeta-Jones), much like Danny in Ocean’s Eleven with an added teeth obsession. Zeta-Jones captures the essence of her gold digging character — smart, seductive, manipulative and breathtakingly beautiful.
Miles Massie (Clooney) is a fast-talking divorce/matrimony lawyer who, in all his success, has become rather bored with his lifestyle. Miles is a master at turning the promiscuous partner into a victim of manipulation and has earned a reputation as Los Angeles’ (that does include Beverly Hills) premiere divorce attorney.
But the jaded lawyer is suddenly left without words as the stunning Marilyn Rexroth (Zeta-Jones) enters his office to dispute her first ex-husband, Rex Rexroth’s (Edward Herrmann) claims. Miles and Marilyn’s chemistry turns sour as he exposes her as a money hungry piranha looking for fresh meat at the divorce hearing. Marilyn, now single and broke, turns to her circle of friends (also gold diggers) for solace and to plot her revenge.
Intolerable Cruelty plays as an E! made-for-TV movie about gold diggers in Hollywood and the poor, filthy rich men on which they prey.
This concept is something that has been beaten to death in the media from the infamous year-long union of Anna Nicole Smith and J. Howard Marshall II, who’s not-so-sudden death left a huge fortune which has been the source of much bitterness between the former bride and her stepson, E. Pierce Marshall.
So why would the Coen brothers make such a predictable comedy? Simple, Cruelty is their exaggerated take on Hollywood marriages and the multi-million dollar settlements that follow, while giving the film a twisted fairy tale ending. The Coen brothers gave Cruelty a quirky script and a glossed over finish, which was the film’s glaring flaw. While The Big Lebowski and O’ Brother, Where Art Thou? felt genuine and refreshing compared to the usual Hollywood backwash in theaters, Cruelty is a run-of-the-mill romantic comedy rather than a dark, sophisticated game of cat and mouse that the movie could have been.
Both Zeta-Jones and Clooney are no strangers to romantic comedies; in America’s Sweethearts she played a spoiled movie star, while Clooney is used to playing the role of a modern-day Romeo in films such as One Fine Day, Out Of Sight and Ocean’s Eleven. In Cruelty, Zeta-Jones takes the uberbitch persona to the next level by having the audience love her one moment and then despise her the next. Not many actresses would be able to fill Marilyn’s shoes but Zeta-Jones makes it look easy. Almost too easy.
Cruelty’s most notable performances come from the film’s talented supporting cast. Billy Bob Thornton, Paul Adelstein and Richard Jenkins deliver clever one-liners and steal scenes from superstars Clooney and Zeta-Jones.
Intolerable Cruelty sports good performances and sly directing, but the unoriginal, predictable script forces the movie to settle with being a decently enjoyable romantic comedy. And the bottom line is, that’s not much.