Burn After Reading, the latest from the Coen Brothers, makes its North American debut this year, following last year's rapturous Toronto reception for the Oscar-winning success of the tense, terse No Country for Old Men. After making No Country for Old Men, in perverse Coen-logic, the timing is clearly right for a messy, mean-spirited, profane punchy comedy. Burn After Reading is built around a classic Coen plot -- there's a valuable something out there, and various ill-equipped, dimwitted people see it as the answer to all their problems -- and the pleasure of seeing the big ensemble cast bite down hard on small parts until the juice drips down their chin is dry, funny and rich. (Brad Pitt's work alone as a fitness trainer whose I.Q. is as immeasurably low as his body-fat percentage is, bluntly, inanely great -- full of verve and conviction, and deeply funny.)
The Coens make movies about desire -- the stuff of drama -- but they often choose to make them about idiocy -- the stuff of comedy -- as well; as various characters around Washington, D.C. pursue, posses or hope to profit from a lost CD of data that an ex-CIA man (John Malkovich, fussy and hilarious) has misplaced, the plot's in part just a canvas for Coen-syle, carefully-timed punchlines and comedy so dry it'll leave your lips chapped. There's also some great inside-baseball movie-joke stuff about the cliches of every techno-thriller -- the Taiko-drum scores, the lower-left-of-the-screen-type establishing place and time, the moody shots of shadowy figures who may or may not be following our heroes -- that work in a smart, sideways fashion, too. And every actor in Burn After Reading is playing someone having some kind of mid-to-late-life freakout, grabbing at chances to be happy, and failing while flailing and spitting out four-letter words as they go down; Kim will have her full review up later, but we laughed. A lot.