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Burn After Reading /

Rated: R

Starring: John Malkovich, Brad Pitt, George Clooney, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton

Directed by: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen

Produced by: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
Written by: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
Distributor: Focus Features

     There are those who have never quite been on Joel and Ethan Coen’s wavelength in terms of comedy, but I’m not in that group. In fact, I’m as big a Coen Brothers fan as anybody; I even dug their critically-lambasted Intolerable Cruelty and The Ladykillers. But I flat-out didn’t get why 95 percent of the material in their latest effort, Burn After Reading, was supposed to be funny as I suffered through it. As the typical old, progressive Los Angeles elitists in attendance at the advanced screening of the film I patronized hooted and hollered, I sat in a state of disbelief. “This piece of you know what was written and directed by the same brothers who brought us No Country for Old Men and Fargo?” I thought to myself. "How could that be?" Minor as the Coens intended for Burn After Reading to seem, the movie is inexcusably unfunny.


     What else is there for me to say about the film? Its plot about a group of fitness-trainers who find what they assume is a disc full of covert CIA files on their gym’s floor—it’s really a neurotic ex-agent’s (John Malkovich) confusingly-written memoirs—isn’t worth dissecting. The narrative succeeds neither as a comedy nor as a thriller. Only one member of the movie’s cast (Brad Pitt, playing the doofus of all doofuses) can be credited with the two chuckles the film provoked in me. The rest of the seasoned actors—Malkovich, George Clooney, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton, and Peter Jenkins, among others—only seem to be present in the picture either because A) they’re a usual Coen-collaborator or B) they sought an easy-paycheck. (In other words, not much creativity is on-display in the acting-department.) Without much to discuss, I’ll merely end on a necessary note of caution: no matter how big a Coen fan you think you are, Burn After Reading isn’t worth your time or money. Vicky Christina Barcelona, Tropic Thunder, and The House Bunny, while all imperfect in their own rights, collectively represent a variety of comedies in release that you’ll be able to laugh at (and enjoy yourself) a lot more while watching.


-Danny Baldwin, Bucket Reviews

Review Published on: 9.12.2008

Screened on: 9.10.2008 at the Aero Theatre in Santa Monica, CA.


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