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Caesar Salad Days

Alison Rosa/Universal Studios

Hail, Caesar! (2016)

The Coen brothers’ homage to classical Hollywood, “Hail, Caesar!” stars Josh Brolin as Eddie Mannix, a studio honcho working around the clock to put out fires such as starlets posing for “French postcards,” unwed mothers, kidnappings and actors who can’t act.

Eddie makes his rounds in the sprawling studio from one soundstage to the next, patching together the episodic pastiche of many a Hollywood trope of yesteryear as seen in the movies-within-a-movie such as a synchronized-swimming mermaid picture with Scarlett Johansson, a tap-dancing sailor picture with Channing Tatum, a singing cowboy picture with Alden Ehrenreich and a Caesar-coming-to-Jesus picture with George Clooney.

It wouldn’t be a Coen brothers comedy without the usual oddballs and high jinks. A group of communist screenwriters kidnaps actor Baird Whitlock (Mr. Clooney) shortly before he wraps his latest film. There’s Ralph Fiennes as an exasperated director and Tilda Swinton as two rival-sibling gossip columnists.

It’s basically a 106-minute in-joke on the studio system heyday, complete with lovely period details of sets, costumes and visual effects. But it’s all a bit self-indulgent, as the trip down memory lane goes nowhere fast and without arriving at any revelations about the time, place and people beyond gently ribbing their outmoded conventions.


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