koch on film


By. Ed Koch

“Intolerable Cruelty (-)

This farce, with the extraordinarily beautiful Catherine Zeta-Jones and the very handsome George Clooney, got excellent reviews. After seeing the film, I believe those reviews were vastly overstated.

For me, a farce is a comedy stretched beyond simple comedy that employs a list of actions and behaviors to achieve humor. They can range from the Marx Brothers’ slapstick routines to Oscar Wilde’s wit and epigrams used in the play “Importance of Being Earnest.”

“Intolerable Cruelty” is about a divorce case and the desire of both spouses to destroy one another in the division of property. It is all froth and far more witless than witty. I am surprised that the Coen brothers, who directed “Raising Arizona” and “The Big Lebowski,” failed so miserably in this film.

The acting of the two principal stick figures in this film, Marilyn (Catherine Zeta-Jones) and Miles (George Clooney) is adequate, but very little acting was required of them. They portray empty, vacuous personalities absorbed with themselves, living at the top of the food chain.

We learn that Marylin married Rex (Edward Herrmann) for his money. Rex is represented by Miles, who is a caricature of a sleazy lawyer willing to support perjury, perpetrated by his clients, to win the largest possible settlements. The entire movie is a joke but one without real humor.

Two other negatives helped ruin the film. One is an anti-Semitic aspect that exists in the projection of the senior law partner to whom Miles reports. He is an aged, repulsive caricature modeled on Shakespeare’s Shylock and Dickens’ Fagin. He is obsessed with billable hours, the collection of fees and expense accounts. The second, and even harsher negative, is the depiction of blacks, led by Cedric the Entertainer, who was so terrific in “Barbershop.” All the blacks in this film are portrayed as obsessed with dirty tricks, sex and pornography.

The film was well attended and is obviously a money maker, but I was disappointed. If you want to see a good comedy farce, I would recommend that you rent a Spencer Tracy/Katharine Hepburn or William Powell/Claudette Colbert film and wait for Catherine Zeta-Jones and George Clooney to team up again with a better script.

“Runaway Jury” (-)

Of all the bad movies I have seen this year, “Runaway Jury” is one of the worst – the worst when it comes to being believable.

Those not familiar with trials and jury selection may enjoy the film, but anyone with a knowledge of the law and courtroom procedures will be offended. The film contains one factual error after another in court procedures, all intended to move the plot along. The movie is based on a book, which I did not read, by John Grisham, who is known for his careful research.

The plot is about jury tampering in a case brought by a wife on behalf of her murdered husband against a gun manufacturing company for not exercising appropriate controls over shops selling their weapons.

Rankin Fitch (Gene Hackman) is a strategist for the evil gun companies; Wendall Rohr (Dustin Hoffman) is the plaintiff’s lawyer; and Nick Easter (John Cusack) is a jury member who with his girlfriend, Marlee (Rachel Weisz), is seeking to extort money from both the defense and the plaintiff by offering to sway the jury. While jury tampering does occasionally occur, the illegal negotiations, tampering, and physical violence depicted in this film in connection with the jury outcome could not occur. I found it ridiculous.

Only a few people were in the audience when I saw the flick. I went to see it because Elvis Mitchell, in his New York Times review, conveyed that the movie was good and the acting even better. In my judgment, he was dead wrong on both counts. Dustin Hoffman was particularly bad.

– Ed Koch