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Opie vs. the Brothers Grim? No contest. Twenty minutes is all it takes for Joel and Ethan Coen—bankrolled by Ron Howard’s multiplex-chummy production company—to slap their deliciously unsettling stamp on this love-is-for-suckers farce. And when they take control (cue a concierge who doubles as a baron, a bagpiper braying “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” and an asthmatic hit man named Wheezy Joe), the cynical bros responsible for such best-served-cold fare as Barton Fink and Fargo turn Intolerable Cruelty—which reportedly began life as a romantic-comedy treatment—into one of their most delightfully dark takes on the human condition yet. The nastier Cruelty gets, the funnier it gets, as goofy-charming divorce attorney Miles Massey (George Clooney, now official heir to the Cary Grant throne), whose legendary “Massey pre-nup” is studied at Harvard, is seduced and destroyed by professional ex-wife Marylin Rexroth (the incandescently vicious Catherine Zeta-Jones), his equal in scoring millions with the scam known as holy matrimony. As Massey and Rexroth con, swindle, and swoon their way further into each other’s icy hearts, the Coens fire up their loop-de-loop camera tricks, and their quick-lipped doublespeak dialogue accelerates to triple time. (Robert Ramsey and Matthew Stone get co-credits on the script, but you can tell that Joel and Ethan dominated it.) The filmmakers have also front-loaded the supporting cast with top-notch talent in quirky character parts: Cedric the Entertainer as portly shamus Gus Petch; Julia Duffy as Sarah Sorkin, Marylin’s appropriately Valley of the Dolls-esque friend; and Paul Adelstein as Wrigley, Massey’s constantly sobbing right-hand man. But Intolerable Cruelty’s greatest strength happens to be its greatest weakness, as well: Clooney (in a role that’s just a dollop of Dapper Dan away from his O Brother, Where Art Thou? convict) and Zeta-Jones are so damn hot together, you’ll no doubt leave craving at least a few more tête-à-têtes. As it stands, we do get two fantastic dinner scenes in which Massey and Marylin trade sly come-ons and sinister put-downs, falling for each other as they try to screw each other over. The foundation of their relationship might be Hepburn and Tracy, but the couple’s tragicomic denouement is pure Coen and Coen. —Sean Daly