Written by: Beth Woodward, CC2K Books Editor
When I first found out that I would be reviewing Hail Caesar for April Fools' Week, I thought of another Julius Caesar reference: the famous Shakespearean tragedy, and still my favorite of the Bard’s works. So in honor of this movie’s prestigious heritage (if mediocre results), I thought I would do something a little different: review the movie in Shakespearean-style verse.
Before I do, let me state for the record that I am not a poet, and I am certainly not Shakespeare. I don't think anything I wrote even remotely resembles iambic pentameter…or even remotely resembles verse, in all likelihood. As such, I apologize up front to William Shakespeare, Shakespeare fans, all my old high school English teachers, and anyone with good taste.
Friends, Romans, countrymen (and women), lend me your ears
For I must declare that cinema hast fallen, descended into
A state of notorious infamy. Else, how could stars if such importance
Appear in such a piece of festering excrement?
Translation: This movie sucks. So how come there are so many big celebrities are in it? Okay, Samuel L. Jackson I get…kinda. This movie came out before Pulp Fiction, so he hadn’t really hit big yet. But come on. He’d already had a memorable turn as the “Love Daddy” in Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing, and he was in Jurassic Park and Menace II Society the year before this came out. So he must have known there were better things out here for him than playing a mailman terrorized by Anthony Michael Hall's dog!
But Robert Downey, Jr.? He has no such excuse. This movie was released in 1994—the year after Downey won an Oscar for Chaplin. He goes from Oscar winner to supporting player (he literally has two scenes) in this piece of shit? What, did he owe Anthony Michael Hall money or something? Apparently, they were actually close friends from their SNL days. The question is whether they were still close friends after this movie was made…
Oh, yes, how the mighty fell for this movie. Take a look at the below clip. Something tells me that this one is not what Robert Downey, Jr., used to get himself cast in Iron Man.
Julius Caesar MacGruder, our ne’er-do-well hero,
Has a most perilous dilemma. He doth love a woman,
(Buffer Bidwell, beautiful and bitchy.)
Her father detests Caesar. Determined to rid his progeny
Of the knave, he makes a wager: Caesar must amass $100,000
In half-year’s time, or else relinquish his claim to fair Buffer.
Poor Caesar is torn—the music, the band—
Must he sacrifice it all for fair Buffer’s hand?
But he is decided. He will win his lady’s love.
So he toils away in a life of endless monotony,
At Buffer’s dad’s eraser factory.
But everything is not what it seems,
As Buffer’s dad hatches nefarious schemes.
Erasers were merely a front of dubious believability
In a nuclear warhead factory.
Translation: Anthony Michael Hall (who also directed) plays Julius Caesar MacGruder, a slacker who doesn’t care about anything but his craptastic band called—surprise, surprise—Hail Caesar. He’s got a girlfriend who doesn’t really like him very much (who can blame her?). Buffer’s father—who ought to be arrested for child abuse for naming his kid “Buffer”—thinks Caesar’s a loser, and wants to get rid of him. So he tells Caesar that if he can make $100,000 in six months, he can have Buffer. Otherwise, Caesar’s got to go away and never come back.
Caesar decides to do everything he can to win the right to see Buffer, even taking a job at her father’s pencil eraser factory. His bandmates are pissed that Caesar would pick his bitchy girlfriend over the band. (But the band sucks anyway, so why should I care? Oh, yeah, that’s right, I don’t.)
But it turns out that Buffer’s dad is actually evil, and that “pencil erasers” are merely a cover up for “nuclear warheads.” (Or something—by this time, I wasn’t paying much attention. I was too busy wishing I had one of those Bidwell pencils with their nice, new erasers to stick through my eye sockets!) And when the plant manager gets too close to their evil plan, Mr. Bidwell’s sycophantic cohort has a brilliant idea: promote Caesar to plant manager, because that idiot will never be able to figure anything out! Calamity ensues! Ha ha, it's funny…or not.
Anthony Michael Hall, o Anthony Michael Hall,
Wherefore hast thou betrayed us so?
We loved you in Weird Science. And as Farmer Ted.
In Edward Scissorhands you were mean
But in Breakfast Club you were nice instead.
But with your day-glo hair, and your ugly 90s clothes,
We simply cannot remember what made us adore you so.
Translation: I love Brat Pack movies, and I am a big fan of the confident, mysterious persona Anthony Michael Hall developed for his character in The Dead Zone. But Hail Caesar? What was he thinking? I don’t think it’s any coincidence that this was Hall’s first—and only—venture into feature film direction: if this was what he had to offer, I can’t really blame studios for not giving him another opportunity.
The first problem (although not the biggest, by far): Hall’s character is just weird in this movie, both in looks and personality. He’s well past the awkwardness of his teen years, yet he hasn’t developed the self-possession he gained in more recent work. And his hair…ugh. For this film, Hall dyed his (already naturally blonde) hair a color he refers to as “Mellow Yellow.” (I’m not kidding; he actually referred to it by name!) Then, to top it off, the character dressed in clothes that just screamed “kick me”—even in 1994!
The question is why one woman—let alone two—would have fallen for this loser! Not to mention the fact that he repeatedly asks one of the girls whether she’s “taken her pills today” whenever she says something that he doesn’t like. Not only is that not cute, it’s actually offensive! And it says a lot about the logic of this film that said girl—SPOILER ALERT—actually ends up dating him in the end! I wouldn’t want to date someone who thought I should medicate away my personality.
But the bigger problem is the movie itself. It’s a movie about a band where there is almost no music. It’s a movie about an evil weapons manufacturer where there is no moral. It’s a love story where there’s no romance. It’s a comedy where there’s almost no humor. (Hey, I like stupid comedies as much as the next person, but a stupid comedy with no comedy is just stupid.)
To the scoundrel who named this film for me
All I can say is this: a curse upon thee!
Two hours of my life that will never return,
A film so ghastly it made my retinas burn!
A fool I have been, for if I had known
The movie would be this bad
I might have first gotten stoned!
Translation: Maybe I would have liked this movie more if I had killed off a few (or all) of my brain cells before watching it. Though I'm not sure there are enough drugs in the world to make this movie enjoyable.