Based on the real life of Eddie Mannix who was at one time General Manager of the vast MGM Studios, the movie is a kind of tongue-in cheek love story to the glamorous days of an old-fashioned Hollywood. Mannix, superbly played by Josh Brolin, is the anchor to the whole piece which is essentially 28 hours in his rather manic life. From fixing up the pregnant unmarried DeeAnn Moran (Scarlett Johansson) who is an aqua star in the mode of Esther Williams, to rescuing ingenue Gloria DeLamour (Natasha Bassett) from the clutches of a French Postcard Photographer, is all in a day’s work for him.
This however all pales into insignificance when the studio’s biggest star the nice-but-dim Baird Whitlock (George Clooney), disappears whilst in the middle of shooting the studio’s hammy religious epic “Hail Caesar.” It turns out that he has been kidnapped by a friendly bunch of communist screenwriters who are disgruntled with the studio system, and who (naturally) are controlled by the evil influences of Russia as all the panic mongers thought back then.
Whilst Mannix is trying to resolve this problem, he has all the Studio bosses in NY that he must answer too in his daily phone call, and when they insist that he cast one of the studio’s biggest box-office draws who is a singing cowboy in a elegant costume drama, he has no choice than to comply. However Hobie Doyle (an exceptionally wonderful Alden Ehrenreich) has a great deal of trouble just stringing words together in a sentence and his struggle with his new role makes for one of the funniest scenes in the movie when his director Laurence Laurentz (a terrific Ralph Fiennes) tries to get him to manage to say the simplest of lines.
The Coens touch on most of the Hollywood stereotypes of the period and at times this rather uneven movie of theirs is nothing more than a series of somewhat isolated incidents just strung together. Some of them work extremely well such as Burt Gurney’s (Channing Tatum) delightful big song and dance routine in the style of Gene Kelly, whereas the usually reliableTilda Swinton’s performance as a pair of twin gossip columnists a la Hedda Hopper falls rather flat, despite her rather stunning hats. The high points do at least give the overall impression that it is an enjoyable and funny film even though it is far from the best that the brothers have made. They manage to cram in a lot of action with very little real plot into quite a fast paced 106 minutes, but at times it seems that the Coens have not so much been inspired by the original classic Hollywood but more by the master of high camp Mel Brooks and his classic gem of a movie “Blazing Saddles” from 1974.