Hail, CaesarThe first scene in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, the sequel to one of the greatest action movies ever filmed, is a musical number. There was no cinematic justification for Kate Capshaw leading a line of chorus girls in a Mandarin Chinese rendition of “Anything Goes” for three minutes while audiences asked “WTF?” before that was even a thing. No justification does not mean no explanation. It turns out that director Steven Spielberg always wanted to direct a musical. And, oh, yeah, he was married to Capshaw.

Now, imagine, not just one scene, but an entire film comprised of scenes from genres that the director always wanted to film. For example, a Gene Autry singing cowboy song might come before an Esther Williams water ballet number and after a Noel Coward comedy of manners. Throw in a Gene Kelly dance routine and a bit of biblical epic, and, voila, you have a movie. Actually, you would not have a movie as defined by a narrative thread divided into three acts, but you would have 106 minutes of film that you could call a movie and send to the theaters.

If you can imagine such thing, you do not have to go and see Hail, Caesar, because if you have seen Gene Autry, Esther Williams, Noel Coward, Gene Kelly, and Tony Curtis then you do not need to see Alden Ehrenreich, Scarlett Johansson, Ralph Fiennes, Channing Tatum, and George Clooney do thinly veiled impersonations of such stars of yesteryear.

Yes, it as if the Coen Brothers, Ethan and Joel, set out to make all the genre films from the 1940’s and 50’s in one go. And, in a sense, they succeed. Every scene is technically perfect. The level of skill in front of and behind the camera is staggering. If you were to see any one – and only one – of the genre scenes, you might think to yourself, “Wow, Hail, Caesar must be a great flick.” Errr, no. Because strangely enough, and even though it may be counterintuitive, a movie of great scenes is not necessarily a great movie.

Josh Brolin is Eddie Mannix, the Head of Physical Production at Capital Pictures, a driven, loyal man whose only sin is lying to his wife about quitting smoking. Eddie solves problems and, boy, does he have plenty of them. The largest problem is finding enough screen time for all the stars shoehorned into the movie. Other than Brolin and Clooney, who spends the entire film showing way too much skin in a Roman toga, the all-star cast is largely reduced to extended cameos.

Sure they’re terrific. Who knew Channing Tatum could tap dance? Johansson continues to embody the concept of presence. Relative unknowns Ehrenreich and Veronica Osorio are absolute delights, and who doesn’t love the idea of Tilda Swinton playing Hedda Hopper as twin sisters. But the result is considerably less than the sum of these formidable parts. They are all in service to a story that barely exists – some trivial nonsense about communist screenwriters kidnapping a big star to get back at the studio and advance their cause. And even that makes it sound more fun, and certainly more logical, than it plays out.

No doubt, the Coen Brothers will suffer little for this misfire. They will remain critical darlings. In fact, Hail, Caesar may be spun as their tribute to the old studio system even though they have spurned mainstream filmmaking and the modern studio system throughout their careers. But potential viewers would be well advised to just watch Hail, Caesar on YouTube – one scene at a time.

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