Thursday, November 15, 2018
Movies

George Clooney and the Coen brothers’ ‘Suburbicon’ is a half-baked mess

George Clooney’s latest directing effort, Suburbicon, is a movie tipping off why it’s going wrong before it actually happens.

Start with a screenplay by Joel and Ethan Coen feeling like the sort of rehashed previous material that writers might do when they’re blocked or bored and just wishing to type. The Coens wouldn’t dare make Suburbicon since they already made Fargo and Blood Simple before that, plus several films with this one’s absurd 1950s vibe.

Enter Clooney and his writing partner Grant Heslov, who can’t leave a half-baked script untouched. Somehow, they bake it less. I’m guessing it’s their idea to add a racial discrimination subplot bookending the movie and not adding much between. Their urge to make a progressive statement finds Clooney and Heslov with little to say.

Slightly more developed is Suburbicon’s crime story, a murder-for-profit scheme without a prayer of success. Matt Damon needlessly gained 30 pounds to play Gardner Lodge, a victim of a home invaders who murdered his invalid wife. Her twin sister Margaret (both Julianne Moore) moves into Gardner’s home, ostensibly to help raise his son, Nicky (Noah Jupe). They live in Suburbicon, a place so perfectly planned that naturally there’s unseen tensions roiling.

Nicky soon notices his father and aunt behaving like they’re married. When suspects in his mother’s murder are captured and placed in a police lineup, Gardner and Margaret don’t identify the killers they and Nicky saw. Suburbicon’s suspense springs entirely from Nicky’s fear that he knows too much to live. He’s right.

This stuff is pure Coen brothers, both a tribute to and satire of the overheated noir of James M. Cain in books and Billy Wilder on screen. Gardner’s plot involves cashing in his wife’s life insurance, introducing a claims investigator (underused Oscar Isaac) who’ll tighten the screws.

Gardner’s plot is merely another version of Jerry Lundegaard’s in Fargo; a timid noncriminal hiring two deadly henchmen for dirty work on his wife then watching things spin out of control. Suburbicon is Clooney doing lukewarm Coen brothers material as closely to their style as possible. Imitation isn’t always flattering.

Neither is Clooney’s shameless invoking of bigotry with scant purpose. The neighborhood’s lily-white populace is stunned when the Meyers, an African-American family, moves in. The movie spends five minutes with their unease before shoving the Meyers to a back burner. They’re only here to inspire a third act riot distracting police from nasty things happening down the street at Gardner’s home. Black lives wasted by a movie that doesn’t matter.

Contact Steve Persall at [email protected] or (727) 893-8365. Follow @StevePersall.

Comments
In theaters this week: ‘Fantastic Beasts 2,’ ‘Widows,’ ‘Boy Erased,’ ‘Instant Family’

In theaters this week: ‘Fantastic Beasts 2,’ ‘Widows,’ ‘Boy Erased,’ ‘Instant Family’

Take your pick at the multiplex from the Harry Potter prequel, a heist, a family comedy and an important gay conversion drama.
Published: 11/14/18
Tampa Bay comic book artists and fans react to Stan Lee’s death

Tampa Bay comic book artists and fans react to Stan Lee’s death

Tampa Bay is home to comic book industry professionals and fans — even a superhero — who were impacted by the Marvel icon and his work.
Published: 11/14/18
Holiday movie guide: From 'The Grinch' to 'Mary Poppins,' 32 movies to see by year's end

Holiday movie guide: From 'The Grinch' to 'Mary Poppins,' 32 movies to see by year's end

The season is stocked with awards hopefuls and familiar faces, including The Grinch (Nov. 9), the Potterverse (Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, Nov. 16), a superhero (Aquaman, Dec. 21) and even Mary Poppins, y'all (Mary Poppins Returns, Dec. 19).
Published: 11/06/18

Five Queen documentaries to stream before 'Bohemian Rhapsody'

Before seeing how Rami Malek does in Freddie Mercury’s shoes, here’s how to check out the real Mercury in action.
Updated one month ago
The Queen movie ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ survives impossible task of re-creating Freddie Mercury

The Queen movie ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ survives impossible task of re-creating Freddie Mercury

A decade in the making, the Queen biopic, arriving Friday, hinged on casting an actor who could capture their iconic singer's essence. Good thing Rami Malek came along.
Updated one month ago
Rupert Everett’s moving ‘Happy Prince’ stages Oscar Wilde’s tragic final act

Rupert Everett’s moving ‘Happy Prince’ stages Oscar Wilde’s tragic final act

Everett wrote, directed and stars in this almost unbearably bittersweet feast for the senses, which spotlights playwright and author Oscar Wilde, the 20th century’s first true pop celebrity, in decay far past his prime.
Updated one month ago
In theaters this week: ‘Johnny English Strikes Again,’ ‘Hunter Killer,’ ‘Mid90s’

In theaters this week: ‘Johnny English Strikes Again,’ ‘Hunter Killer,’ ‘Mid90s’

Rowan Atkinson is back as the bumbling spy Johnny English while Gerard Butler captains a submarine and Jonah Hill revisits ’90s L.A.
Updated one month ago
‘Mid90s’ is a time capsule of mixtapes, skating and more

‘Mid90s’ is a time capsule of mixtapes, skating and more

Written and directed by Jonah Hill, the film is an immersion in the sights and sound of a pop-cultural moment. Like its teen protagonist, it struggles for identity, and the struggle makes it interesting as well as occasionally frustrating.
Updated one month ago
In theaters this week: ‘Halloween,’ ‘The Oath,’ ‘The Old Man & The Gun,’ Tampa Theatre gets in spooky spirit

In theaters this week: ‘Halloween,’ ‘The Oath,’ ‘The Old Man & The Gun,’ Tampa Theatre gets in spooky spirit

Catch loads of Halloween classics at Tampa Theatre or the Halloween revival that brings Jamie Lee Curtis back after 40 years.
Updated one month ago
What makes the new ‘Halloween’ such a thrill is how it deviates from the original

What makes the new ‘Halloween’ such a thrill is how it deviates from the original

Decades after John Carpenter’s slasher landmark, David Gordon Green has resurrected the faceless Boogeyman of Halloween and set him loose on another Halloween night, 40 years later.
Updated one month ago