This goofy espionage comedy from the Coen Brothers, Joel and Ethan, is broad and profane, just they way they like it. After the acclaimed No Country For Old Men they go for something lighter, yet often startling hi-jinks.
Well, in a picture with George Clooney, Brad Pitt, John Malkovich and Tilda Swinton, this star-laden extravaganza moves crisply with moronic delight.
This stylish D.C.-based lark starts blinking when Malkovich's intense CIA analyst Osborne Cox losing the computer disc of his memoirs at a fitness center run by Pitt's Chad Feldheimer and Frances McDormand's Linda Litzke.
The Coens' wound-up execution from the loss of information finds multiple narratives on a collision course. Middle-aged Linda wants cosmetic surgery badly and also a fling as her on-line dating purusing leads her to Clooney's rampant adulter Harry Pfarrer, into "personal protection" through his work at the Treasury department. And, Pfarrer is already in a liason with Cox's doctor wife Katie, a snarky, chic Swinton. Katie's clandestine, resourceful approach to her husband primes the plot profusely.
There are instances that will remind some of the filmmakers earlier efforts like the charming Raising Arizona or the divorcing comedy (also starring Clooney) Intolerable Cruelty. Emotional backstabbing becomes more prevalent among the higher social ranks as marital discord swiftly unfolds with some mordant flair.
The jokes and visuals have a dark inversion to "insider" more politically-charged thrillers with malevolent powers, like Michael Clayton which featured Clooney and Swinton in top form. Swinton and McDormand earn some laughs from the power of suggestion and misunderstanding, respectively.
Malkovich feels at home with with the childish, monochromatic looking guy, and the low IQ-ish Chad is given much energy by Pitt (making the most of his screen time) who has a fine night-time blackmail moment. Clooney enjoys mugging for the camera as the filmmakers find him ideal in a leering low-angle shot.
Maybe too overly wrought and inflammatory for its own good, Burn After Reading perhaps wimpers out after its grotesque flashes. Less brooding, though loads of attitude give it some rancorousness that offers enough fun of the alarming variety, especially with a CIA boss played by J.K. Simmons and an officer by David Rasche.