Movie Review: 'Intolerable Cruelty'

by Rich Brooks

4 April 2004

"Intolerable Cruelty" is a somewhat offbeat and almost melodramatic romantic comedy starring George Clooney and Catherine Zeta-Jones. A reader who is a self-confessed fan of romantic comedies suggested that I see and review this film in spite of the fact it was made by the jewish Coen brothers, Joel and Ethan. There is, you see, a particularly fiendish and satanic portrayal of an unmistakable jew in this movie, and the two or three scenes where this actor appears, along with a solid performance by the strikingly beautiful Zeta-Jones, make this film almost worth watching.

I say almost worth watching, because this film is overall uneven and thin in material. It is basically a one-joke movie about pre-nuptial agreements, gold-digging women, and unscrupulous divorce attorneys. The humor is not nearly as biting as it might have been, and the joke begins to wear thin after a while. Good humor, I believe, must be at least a little offensive to be funny, and nothing in "Intolerable Cruelty" is very cruel even to lawyers.

George Clooney plays the part of Miles Massey, a high-powered Los Angeles divorce attorney with a "take no prisoners" approach to representing his clients' interests -- by means legal, extra-legal, or even blatantly illegal if necessary. He is in fact the president of a national divorce lawyers association and is famous for the ironclad "Massey pre-nup," a document which plays a major role in this story. Clooney, as you may imagine, exudes suaveness, confidence and competence and is well cast for this part. For all his obvious material success, however, his character is bored and looking for some new challenge in life.

As the movie opens, Miles Massey has just won a big case for his wealthy client Rex Rexroth, leaving now ex-wife Marilyn (Zeta-Jones) with nothing from the marriage settlement. Gold digger Marilyn vows to do better on her next matrimonial adventure. Even though they are adversaries, or perhaps because of that very fact, Clooney and Zeta-Jones discover a strange attraction to each other as they are negotiating. Marilyn indeed does do better with her subsequent marriage and divorce settlement, and manages to take her next husband (Billy Bob Thornton) to the cleaners. The stage is now set for the long-awaited hookup of Marilyn and Miles, and their own interactions with the "Massey pre-nup."

I mentioned the demonic jew depicted in this movie. The 87-year-old head of Massey's law firm is indeed a shriveled, hooked-nosed, extremely semitic-looking caricature. We see him still sitting at his desk, but kept barely alive only with the aid of life-support IV and oxygen tank! I'm surprised that the Coen brothers would allow this scene, because this depiction is much more blatantly derogatory toward jews than anything Mel Gibson has ever done. Abe Foxman would be screaming to high heavens if a gentile ever made a movie like this.

The biggest problem I have with "Intolerable Cruelty" is that neither Clooney nor Zeta-Jones is a sympathetic character. This is a fatal flaw for a romantic comedy, even for a romantic comedy which borders on melodrama as this one does. Neither Clooney nor Zeta-Jones has the personal warmth to attract our empathy, and frankly I don't really care what happens to their characters. Compounding the problem is a script which doesn't do anything to make them likeable. Before the movie is over, each of these scheming lovers has tried to hire a hit man to off the other. But we're supposed to believe that they can just forgive and forget such unpleasant occurrences and in the end make a reconciliation.

Besides Tom Aldredge who portrays jew law firm head Herb Myerson, there are several small parts played by notable actors. I already mentioned Billy Bob Thornton as Zeta-Jones' oil tycoon husband, but there are also appearances by Geoffrey Rush (as an irate husband-client) and Cedric the Entertainer (as a flamboyant negro PI). I was first made aware of Cedric in the nigger comedy "Barbershop," and he almost made that picture worth watching. He and some of these other supporting actors make "Intolerable Cruelty" almost worth watching, but in the end they are not enough to overcome a thin script and less-than-appealing leading players.



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