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FILM REVIEWS: ONE FOR THE KIDS, ONE FOR THE OLD FOGIES

 

 

By Philip Revzin

NEW YORK, 9 MARCH 2016 — It would be hard to find two movies with more divergent fates than recent releases Deadpool and Hail, Caesar! The former, a sort of anti-superhero-movie movie whose biggest star is Ryan Reynolds, topped the box office last week, adding $31.5 million to its three-week total, now $285 million. The latter, a sort of spoof of big-budget Hollywood blockbusters of a by-gone era, with a cast including George Clooney, Scarlet Johansson and Josh Brolin, limped in at $1.3 million, for a month-long total below what Deadpool did last week.

Thematically, it’s hard to separate them. They’re both take-downs of well-known genres with tongue firmly in cheek, although the tongues in Deadpool seem to say the word f**k pretty much continuously.  Right from the opening credits, which list the producers as "asshats," the director as "an overpaid tool," and characters including "a CGI character," a "hot chick," a "gratuitous cameo," and "a moody teen," it’s clear that nobody is taking themselves too seriously. That’s good, because the plot is a mess, the acting is minimal, and the action is incredibly violent, including one scene (Spoiler Alert!) where a single bullet goes through three bad guys’ heads in slo-mo right across the screen. At least it’s rated R, although from the unscientific sample of my suburban multiplex, one wonders how much ID checking is actually happening. Still, if you can manage to overlook all that, and can bring along a 15-year-old who looks old enough to get in to help you translate, it’s pretty fun.


 Deadpool
 Image courtesy of 20th Century Fox

Maybe Hail, Caesar’s problem is it doesn’t have quite enough swearing or gratuitous violence. The mammoth set pieces, including the framing Jesus-and-Rome pic, a perhaps overlong On The Town-type production number of sailors dancing on bar tables, and a hilarious sendup of the singing cowboy genre, are genuinely funny. Mr. Clooney and Ms. Johansson are clearly having a great time. The plot, such as it is, does bog down in a perhaps over-heavy, and highly slanted retelling of the Commies-in-Hollywood-in-the-‘50s story, complete with an incomprehensible Herbert Marcuse character. Even though this was a relatively low-budget ($22 million) affair, clearly with all those stars Universal had higher hopes.


George Clooney in Hail, Caesar!
Image courtesy of Universal

Deadpool on the other hand, was made for $58 million and is paying off big for Fox. After all, it does sort of have superheroes, it is Marvel (and the "gratuitous cameo" turns out to be the requisite one by Stan Lee, which I’ll let you find yourself) and that alone is going to bring in a base box office. But clearly people are liking it and telling their friends, because $285 million is healthy James Bond territory.

Go figure, although the sophisticated and not-so-sophisticated movie genre spoof has a rich tradition from Blazing Saddles through Young Frankenstein to Galaxy Quest. That Deadpool found an audience and Hail, Caesar! didn’t may well just be a factor of young besting old when it comes to cultural references and buying movie tickets. Everybody under the age of 50 got all the references in Deadpool. Nobody under the age of 60 got any of the references in Hail, Caesar! 

That’s kind of too bad. Clooney and Johansson are alone worth the price of admission, at least if you can get a senior discount.

Headline image: Scarlett Johansson in Hail, Caesar!
Image courtesy of Universal

Philip Revzin is an award winning journalist and former editor-at-large for Bloomberg News. Previously, he was a long-time reporter, editor and publisher for The Wall Street Journal Europe in London, Paris and Brussels. Later, Mr. Revzin was named publisher and editor of the Far Eastern Economic Review and the publisher for The Wall Street Journal Asia in Hong Kong. He last wrote on the film Star Wars: The Force Awakens  for Culturekiosque.

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