Coens kill it again with ‘Hail, Caesar!’

I didn’t know I needed Channing Tatum as a gay, tap dancing communist in my life until I saw “Hail, Caesar!”

The above sentence is pretty much all you need to know about the Coen bros.’ latest, a preposterous look at the seedy underbelly of 1950s Hollywood. Though it’s one of their lighter efforts, it’s one of the most purely, joyously entertaining films they’ve ever made.

Our focal point is Eddie Mannix, a real Hollywood figure from the era who is portrayed by Josh Brolin. Mannix is a “fixer,” meaning he maintains the public images of Hollywood stars by making sure the scandalous details of their personal lives never get to the press.

For our sake, he may as well be a zookeeper making sure a bunch of buffoons don’t escape from their cages. The chief buffoon is the wonderfully-named Baird Whitlock (George Clooney), a pretty-boy leading man typical of the era who is drugged on set and kidnapped by mysterious conspirators.

“Hail, Caesar!” follows Mannix as he deals with this among a litany of professional and personal issues, all leading up to a conclusion where the main story threads have been satisfyingly pulled, but cynically, nothing really changes.

The minute-to-minute actionshows the Coens riffing on the Hollywood of that era, or at least the popular image of the Hollywood of that era. You can tell they had a ton of fun coming up with their own versions of what was popular at the time, as we see studio back-lot production of swords-and-sandals epics and stuffy aristocrat dramas.

Most importantly, we get to see the filming of a musical where Tatum does his best Gene Kelly impression by singing and dancing in a sailor suit (for what feels like 10 minutes) about how he won’t get to see “no dames” while he’s on duty in the Navy.

That scene is actually crucial to the plot, but the important part could have been communicated without the musical number. Luckily, the Coens were wise enough to include the exquisitely shot and choreographed sequence, which ended up being the highlight for me.

There’s more to “Hail, Caesar” than the continued ascension of Tatum’s talents, though. Alden Ehrenreich is particularly terrific as Hobie Doyle, a western star whose casting in one of the aforementioned stuffy aristocrat dramas is particularly hilarious due to his thick cowboy accent.

Doyle ends up being the hero of the film in a sense, and the relatively unknown Ehrenreich’s performance makes him easily the most sympathetic character in a cast filled with stars. Put simply, he’s just a lovable dork.

I’m going to pull the plug here and tell you to just go see “Hail, Caesar!” Nothing in the story is particularly spoilable, but the more you know going in, the less fun you’ll have.

5/5 stars