Several years ago, Stephen Spielberg took over the film “A.I. Artificial Intelligence,” a film that was being developed by Stanley Kubrick before he died. The results were mixed at best and the lesson seemed to be when filmmakers cross-pollinate, you’re likely going to end up with a weird hybrid.
Such is the case with “Suburbicon,” a movie written by Joel and Ethan Coen they tried to get made, but it never went anywhere until George Clooney came along and asked if he could direct it.
Clooney, a very capable director in his own right (who seems to be following the Clint Eastwood/Robert Redford career path from in front of the camera to behind it) packed the movie with A-list talent and we should have been off to the races.
The Coens mix violence and absurdity better than anybody. It’s a tricky combination and they have almost perfected the art of pulling it off. Clooney still has some work to do.
Set in the “Mad Men” era of the early 1960s in a planned community that Ozzie and Harriet would have found a little too neat and perfect, the hook of “Suburbicon” is essentially a film noir as viewed through the eyes of a child.
That kid is Nicky (played by Noah Jupe), a little boy who is awoken one night to find a couple of criminals have invaded his home and subdued his father Gardner (Matt Damon) his mother and his aunt (twins both played by Julianne Moore).
This event shatters the family and matters become even more complicated when an insurance investigator (Oscar Issac) comes snooping around.
There is also an incongruous subplot involving the fake veneer of the community being shattered when an African-American family moves in and most of the residents of Suburbicon reveal themselves to be ugly, hateful, and overtly racist.
You can see elements of some of the Coens’ better work here, such as characters being foiled by greed, stupidity, and happenstance like in “Burn After Reading” or the American Dream tearing itself apart from within like in “A Serious Man.”
But, unfortunately, in “Suburbicon,” none of it comes together, and, in the end, it feels like Clooney is doing his best Coen Brothers impression instead of making this movie his own.
Another bummer with this movie is it wastes a pretty solid Matt Damon performance. He’s really good at playing the buttoned-up guy losing his grip on reality and does a great job of never letting the audience in on how low Gardner is actually capable of sinking.
You can see why the Coens left “Suburbicon” on the shelf, as it feels like someone mashed together a couple of good ideas that only made it about two-thirds of the way to the finish line.
I look forward to the future when the Coens are doing their thing, Clooney is doing his, and never the twain shall meet.
“Suburbicon” is rated R for violence, language, and some sexuality.