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WGUC Reviews

Burn After Reading

Burn After Reading
Focus Features
Rated R
Now Showing at: most major theaters.
Review by: Larry Thomas


Maybe you didn’t notice, but after The Coen Brothers made more than a name for themselves with their huge box office and award winning hit Fargo, their next film was a goofy, decidedly off-kilter comedy called The Big Lebowski. It developed a life of its own and is now considered a cult classic that plays on midnight shows just about every weekend somewhere in the country.

Last year, the Brothers scored an even greater triumph by winning Oscars for both themselves and the film No Country for Old Men. Their follow-up production, is…you guessed it…a goofy, decidedly off-kilter comedy. Although Burn After Reading is not likely to become as beloved as The Big Lebowski, and has none of the charm of one of their best films, The Hudsucker Proxy, , it’s still fun to watch a cast of big-name Oscar winning stars play a bunch of loonies.

John Malkovich works for the CIA, and is dismissed. In his rage, he writes his memoirs, revealing things that others would prefer remain under wraps. The CD containing this work is accidentally dropped on the floor of a gym, where physical trainers Frances McDormand and Brad Pitt find it, and try to use it to their advantage. Meanwhile, married but philandering George Clooney is having an affair with Malkovich’s iceberg wife Tilda Swinton, but is also availing himself of an on-line dating service, which hooks him up with, among others, McDormand.

Confused? You won’t be when you watch these actors go off the deep end in pursuing their dreams. To say that these characters are basically morons is an understatement. But they’re funny morons, doing the most illogical things for illogical reasons. Clooney is narcissistic in his pursuit of pleasure. McDormand is determined that getting four cosmetic surgery procedures will change her life. Swinton could single-handedly re-freeze anything melting at the North Pole. Malkovich is obviously completely unhinged. And Brad Pitt has the best time playing a very dim trainer who sports a 1980s “Johnny Suede” hairdo, and is constantly bopping to the music in his iPod. This is Pitt’s best work since Thelma and Louise, which made him a star. The supporting cast includes Richard Jenkins as the gym manager, who is in love with McDormand; J.K. Simmons as the CIA executive who tries to make sense of all that’s going on; and David Rasche, as his befuddled intelligence underling who really shouldn’t even have a position as a grocery clerk.

Alfred Hitchcock always referred to a plot device that is basically unimportant, yet ties the plot together as “the maguffin.” Such is Malkovich’s disc. Its main purpose is to tie all these motley folks in a nice neat package full of silliness.

Burn After Reading won’t win Oscars, but considering the spate of drab films released in the last month or so, it’s fun time at the movies once again.

The R-rated Burn After Reading is now showing at all the major plexes around town.


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