IT DOESN'T MATTER that Hail, Caesar! barely hangs together. It's too much fun to watch. Joel and Ethan Coen have given us more than their share of bone-chilling noir and ink-black comedy; they've made films that deal with morality and mortality and the divine absurdity of existence. With Hail, Caesar!, they've forgone the brow furrowing and decided to revel in their favorite topic of all—movies. In what amounts to little more than an extended string of cameos and hilarious set pieces, Hail, Caesar! is a firm, feature-length pinch on Hollywood's swollen, self-absorbed posterior.
A thin sliver of plot runs through Hail, Caesar!—movie star Baird Whitlock (George Clooney) is abducted by a cabal of communist screenwriters—but it's primarily a chance for the Coens to dabble in the filmmaking styles of Hollywood circa 1951. Studio head Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin) saunters the vast backlots of Capitol Pictures, surveying his domain and making sure the picture-making is running smoothly. He wanders through a Busby Berkeley-esque aquatic dance scene and a turgid Bible epic in the style of Ben-Hur; there's Channing Tatum as a sailor in a Gene Kelly-style dance production, and a rootin'-tootin' western laden with acrobatic stunts. The movie's best scene is when the drawling, lasso-spinning Hobie Doyle (Alden Ehrenreich) is asked to take over the leading role in a stiff, brittle melodrama directed by Laurence Laurentz (Ralph Fiennes, in full Grand Budapest mode). It doesn't go smoothly.
Altogether, Hail, Caesar! doesn't add up to much. Actually, it doesn't add up to anything at all. But even if it occasionally feels like the Coens are dinking around in a sandbox, there are more than enough ridiculous moments to make you giggle. They've made a remarkably silly valentine to movies, in all of their ludicrous, laughable glory.