Intolerable Cruelty

2003, Movie, PG-13, 100 mins

Review

INTOLERABLE CRUELTY
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Can a material girl and an unsentimental divorce lawyer find true love, or will each always have one eye on an escape clause? Sleek, debonair Miles Massey (Clooney) is the gold standard against whom divorce lawyers are measured: He can represent a woman whose husband (Geoffrey Rush) caught her red-handed with the pool boy (they don't even have a pool) and send her home with 100 percent of the joint marital assets. He's so notorious, an ironclad prenuptial agreement bears his name, and lesser legal lights shade their eyes in court, lest they be blinded by Miles's pearly whites. But he's in the grip of an "Is that all there is?" malaise, bored by the courtroom machinations that once got his blood pumping and haunted by gothic nightmares of his firm's wizened founder, a yellow-fanged, walking corpse kept alive by the recitation of his courtroom stats. If victory is cold comfort, how can a perpetual winner like Miles fight off the chill? The answer slinks into view with the case of real-estate billionaire Rex Rexroth (Edward Hermann), who's been caught on tape cavorting with a big-haired floozie who is not his wife. Massey believes he can slander Rexroth's trophy wife, Marilyn (Catharine Zeta-Jones), sufficiently to offset the apparently damning tape, but is unprepared for the effect her practiced charms have on him. Beggered by the settlement, the luscious Marilyn recoups her losses through a brilliant coup de matrimony, snaring billionaire Texas oil rube Howard D. Doyle (Billy Bob Thornton) and ingeniously invalidating their Massey prenup. Faced with such icy brilliance, Miles is mesmerized, reduced from a shark to a fluffy bunny gazing into the eyes of a python. A collaboration between the notoriously offbeat Coen brothers and thoroughly mainstream screenwriters Robert Ramsey and Matthew Stone, this piquant romantic comedy is both resolutely generic and bristling with barbs that go down with a delicious fizz and leave behind a refreshing blast of tartness. Zeta-Jones and Clooney, movie stars in the best sense of the term, pitch their performances perfectly; in an age when performers habitually hang onto every bit of business like pit bulls, worrying the poor, feeble thing until someone laughs, they have the confidence to throw everything away — lines, gestures, expressions. That sounds like a little thing, but it divides vulgar, pandering comedy from the kind of slyly breezy rat-a-tat-tat farce defined by BRINGING UP BABY (1938) and HIS GIRL FRIDAY (1940), to which this film is a worthy successor. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh

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