t figures the Coen Brothers would follow pitch-black “No Country for Old Men” with comic relief. Here’s a slight but cheerfully twisted comedy about the penalties of bad intelligence and gross vanity. Bad news: It doesn’t quite work. Good news: These guys don’t make bad movies.
Princeton send-up Osborne Cox (John Malkovich) is unceremoniously dumped from the CIA’s Balkan desk and decides to write a memoire (pronounced in the French way, please). Meanwhile ice-queen wife Katie (Jane-of-all-trades Tilda Swinton) is having an affair with a married State Department loser named Harry Pfarrer (George Clooney) who trawls the Internet for fly-by-night dates and is building a recliner-chair dildo in his basement.
When a CD with bits of Cox’s babblings ends up a local gym (“Hardbodies”), the Coens kick the story into gear. Gym dummy Chad Feldheimer (a manic Brad Pitt) “decodes” the disk and confides its “top secret” contents to fellow employee and ditsy cosmetic surgery candidate Linda Litzke (Frances McDormand), who’s also Internet date-hunting. Guess who she meets?
Mix and match the above, include greed, divorce and dissension and you get idiocy and confusion, in that order. The men are weak, the women are driven, everyone’s sleeping with everyone else, and the CIA doesn’t have a clue. The movie’s zany central characters — particularly OTT Malkovich, Pitt and McDormand — are hilarious (Pitt and “What the fuck?!” Malkovich have a field day). The rest is a nasty little screwball satire about paranoid Washingtonians who are paid to know everything but are professionally clueless.