Damn! It's a bit like taking communion in a cattle market. That is, watching the Coen brothers latest in a multiplex. This time round, Joel and Ethan take a rain check on the independent circuit, calling on the services of George Clooney and Catherine Zeta-Jones to drum up some extra box office trade.
Intolerable Cruelty sees the brothers working with someone else's material for the first time: a story by Matthew Stone and Robert Ramsey (of Ed TV fame), whose specialist subject here is the shady world of matrimonial law. Miles Massey (Clooney) is a slick, successful lawyer who handles cases involving marital infidelity and has devised a pre-nuptial contract that's said to be impenetrable: unlike the gorgeous Marilyn Rexroth (Zeta-Jones); a serial divorcee who waited five long years to escape her first marriage and is now making up for lost time. As Rexroth loves 'em, leaves 'em and increases the naughts in her bank account, a by-now smitten Massey attempts to keep one step ahead en-route to her heart and her bed, while the hugely entertaining plot introduces a steady stream of colourful characters.
We've got Jack Kyle, Stacey Travis and Geoffrey Rush featuring in a hilarious opening scene; a most unlikely sex slave who tells of a 'toy' called 'The Intruder'; several laugh-out-loud courtroom scenes ("Objection your honour. Strangling the witness!"), and what's not to love about that amace-ing face-off where Massey and his confederate (Paul Adelstein) attempt to thwart a perilous situation that's entirely of their own making? Watch out for 'Wheezy Joe'!
As usual with the Coens, there's excellent work from the supporting cast: Richard Jenkins' dour lawyer Freddie Bender, Thornton, Herrman and Rush as damaged spouses and Cedric The Entertainer as a crazy P.I. "You want tactics, go to a tactician. You want ass, call Gus Petch!" Naturally, our two A-listers will attract the most attention, and neither disappoints: Clooney carrying on his excellent work for the brothers, while Catherine Zeta-Jones is a constant delight as the devious beauty who brings a whole new meaning to the term 'homework'.
While Intolerable Cruelty may well win the Coens a few converts, it's most definitely alienated a proportion of their long-standing admirers. Yes, it's smooth and polished with a glossy veneer, but relax, because bouts of Coen madness often creep in. Scenes that would not look out of place in The Hudsucker Proxy or Barton Fink, complimenting another instalment in their latest study of husbands, wives and those who stand between them. Detractors will quite understandably point to the disappointingly predictable finale – after all, the Coen's have never dealt in racing certs – but it's never less than a pleasure to see how they get there.