A giddy technicolor love letter to Hollywood’s golden age, Hail, Caesar! isn’t the Coen brothers’ first ’50s set-piece, or even their first movie about movies. It’s Coen lite, basically, but still filled with their best signatures: cracked humor, indelible characters, and cinematography so rich and saturated you want to dunk a cookie in it. The only thing missing is a good bloody murder. Josh Brolin stars as Eddie Mannix, a studio fixer with a lot to fix: His leading man (George Clooney) has been kidnapped by Communists, his prize mermaid (Scarlett Johansson) is knocked up, and the company cowboy (Alden Ehrenreich) needs to learn how to straddle a new role, stat. Plus there’s a conniving pair of twin gossip columnists (Tilda Swinton, double-dipped) to contain, fussy directors to pacify, and a “civilian” job offer that could take Eddie away from it all.
The plot’s plate-spinning is mostly an excuse, though, for the Coens to play with their favorite thing: filmmaking. There are at least five movies set inside Caesar!—including a sublimely silly song-and-dance number starring Channing Tatum as a tap-shoed sailor—and each one from sword-and-sandal epics to costume melodramas and hokey Westerns, gets a note-perfect tribute. It’s all too winky and meta to amount to much in the end, but it’s also too fun to care. B+