Intolerable Cruelty: Tolerably bland

Oct. 14, 2003, midnight | By Nick Falgout | 17 years, 3 months ago

George Clooney is a good actor. Catherine Zeta-Jones is a good actress. Lawyer movies can be really, really funny (example: Jim Carrey's classic Liar Liar).

Bacon is good. Cheesecake is good. Chocolate is good. Salad is good for you.

How do those two sets of objects relate? Well, let's say you take the food and throw it a blender. The dishes, which were independently identified as good, good, good and good for you, have turned into a disgusting mixture that in all likelihood isn't especially good at all.

See where this is going?

The problem with Intolerable Cruelty, the latest offering from brothers Joel and Ethan Coen (O Brother, Where Art Thou?), lays not so much in the parts that make it up, but the sum of those parts. The Coens, in essence, threw bacon, chocolate, cheesecake and salad into a blender and hoped for the best.

Coming off of that particular metaphor, we have the plot. Intolerable Cruelty is set in Beverly Hills, home of every kind of high-class, highfalutin drama known to man (and, especially in this movie, woman). Miles Massey (Clooney) is a highly successful divorce attorney for a highly respected firm in Los Angeles. His court record is impressive, his wealth is immeasurable, his talent is undeniable and his mid-life crisis is just around the corner. Enter Rex Rexroth (Edward Herrman, of Gilmore Girls), an old fart of a husband who's caught cheating on his lovely young bride Marylin (Zeta-Jones) by Gus Petch (the animated Cedric the Entertainer). Rex turns to none other than Massey, who assures Rexroth that getting through the courts with all of his assets intact, despite Rex's obvious (and documented) infidelity will be merely "a challenge." Then Massey meets Marylin. And all hell breaks loose.

First, of course, Massey wins it for Rex by revealing Marylin to be a savvy, man-eating divorcer (he figures this out, of course, by having dinner with Marylin). Needless to say, there are sparks flying everywhere, or something similarly clichéd. A couple of days/weeks pass, and Marylin is back in Massey's office with oil-tycoon Howard D. Doyle (the appropriately old Billy Bob Thornton). They regale Massey with tales of their love, and Marylin tells Massey that she wants to sign the "Massey prenup" (certainly the first we've heard of it) with Howard as an early wedding gift. The prenuptial agreement in question basically says that each member of the married party will get nothing out of a divorce except what they came in with/earned during the marriage. At the wedding, Mr. Doyle eats said prenup (with barbeque sauce) as a symbol of his undying love and complete trust in Marylin. A "six months later" flashes in our eyes, and Marylin is living the high life off of Doyle's riches, which leaves her free for the taking by our hero, Miles Massey.

From there, the plot takes romance-related twists and turns, has one "big" twist, takes a completely unnecessary dark-comedy turn, and then ends with everyone living happily ever after (with Marylin having accumulated a few more last names). Not that much could be expected plot-wise from a self-professed "romantic comedy" anyway.

Which leaves it up to the comedic aspect to redeem the film. Unfortunately, for a comedy, there are surprisingly few truly funny scenes in Intolerable Cruelty. In fact, the greater chunk of humor comes from the tears of Massey's assistant Wrigley (Paul Adelstien) at various weddings. Aside from the occasional scene where Wrigley and Massey engage in hilarious back-and-forth banter, the movie is barren on the comedy front.

However, like our blender example from way back when, there are some elements of Intolerable Cruelty that go well together. Like chocolate and cheesecake, Clooney and Zeta-Jones click well (barring their split-second courtship), and are a strong presence each time they are on screen together. The same goes for Clooney and Adelstien, although to a much less sexual extent. Additionally, there are some memorable scenes and lines, specifically the first scene where Massey, the two Rexroths, and Marylin's attorney gather to discuss the settlement.

When you get right down to it, Intolerable Cruelty's main issues lie with its unnecessaries, including the unnecessary sub-plot that the first scene sets up, the unnecessary addition of a zany black man to the cast in the form of the especially unnecessary Cedric the Entertainer and the unnecessary dark comedy elements. Like adding bacon and salad to… no wait, not going there again. Intolerable Cruelty may be bland, but at least it's not disgusting.

Intolerable Cruelty is rated PG-13 for sexual content, language and brief violence.

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Nick Falgout. Nick Falgout was bored one day and decided to change his Chips staff information. And now, for a touching song lyric: "I'm a reasonable man, get off my case Get off my case, get off my case." ~ Radiohead, "Packt Like Sardines in a Crushd … More »

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