Miles Massey (Clooney) is a matrimonial lawyer in Los Angeles, the best in his business. He plays dirty if he has to, though, so when he wants an associate to get a look at personal papers belonging to Marylin Rexroth (Zeta-Jones), the golddigging wife of a divorce-seeking millionaire client, Miles plots to get her out of her mansion by inviting her to dinner. At the restaurant, he orders a steak for her, saying, "I presume you're a carnivore?"
"You have no idea," Marylin purrs.
Notice served. Miles and Marylin gnash away at each other for the rest of Intolerable Cruelty, an often amusing screwball comedy. These two ruthless people are attracted to each other from the start, but woe be it for either to admit to having a sincere feeling.
Cruelty is a movie I wanted to love. It's from the Coen brothers (Joel directed, Ethan produced, and they cowrote the script), whose admirable earlier efforts include Fargo and O Brother, Where Art Thou? But I ended up only liking it. There's too much huffing and puffing; the movie stumbles over its own excess plotting and sidetrips with subsidiary characters. That said, there's much that's pleasurable, starting with crackling turns by Clooney and Zeta-Jones. He's doing an accomplished riff on Cary Grant, playing a sharpie who turns befuddled fool when a dame double-whammies him. A sly Zeta-Jones shimmies across the screen, reveling in being a vamp and showing that, with this role and those she had in America's Sweethearts and Chicago, she has no rivals when it comes to playing calculating sexpots. (PG-13)