“There is a natural tilt to the North American continent, and sooner or later, everything loose rolls into southern California.”

— H.L. Mencken

First I’m going to give you two lists: The resume of the fabulous Coen Brothers, the greatest Hollywood brother act since the Marx boys: “Fargo,” “O Brother, Where Art Thou?,” “The Big Lebowski,” “True Grit,” “Raising Arizona,” “No Country for Old Men.” So what could go so wrong?

And, second, consider the cast of this, the Coen brother’s biggest flop ever (other than a remake of “The Lady Killers,” 2007): Scarlett Johansson, Ralph Fiennes, Tilda Swinton, Frances McDormand, Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum, Josh Brolin, George Clooney. What possibly?

What happened here, what caused this derailment, this seismic event, is yet unknown. What happened to this great family? Is there a Yoko Ono in the woodpile?

Like the star fans of Woody Allen, the cast above and dozens more gave up their precious money-making daytime jobs to be in a Coen Brothers’ film, such was their reputation. So I can’t believe this crew read past the third page of the proffered script.

The plot: Hollywood in the ’50s. Josh Brolin (actually the best one in the movie) plays Capitol Studios’ (read: MGM) clean up, troubleshooting man, based on the great real life Eddie Mannix, whose real career would curl you hair.

Mannix is called in to save “Hail Caesar! A Tale of the Christ” (read: “The Robe”) because its star, Baird Whitlock (Clooney), has been kidnapped for a ransom of $100,000 (which today would be Scarlett Johansson’s mani-pedi tab) by, it turns out, a band of Communist screenwriters who want to dismantle the studio “imperialists.” They are smartly cast, but their scenes are boring and too long.

It’s almost as if Ethan let some real Communists improvise.

Mannix has his hands full already with the antics of his biggest starlet, DeeAnna Moran (Johansson), the studio’s water mermaid in the iconic Esther Williams’ tail. Moran is pregnant with a stray seed from a list of unknowns. She actually has to think about it.

Mannix and friends take her to another studio fixer (Jonah Hill in a weak cameo) to concoct a story about her “finding” a baby while she was on vacation.

And there is the fey British director (Ralph Fiennes), who has to coach a cowboy actor (a terrific new comer, Alden Ehrenreich) how to be British in a Noel Coward drama. This all sounds hilarious, and in the hands of the former Coen brothers, it would be, but somewhere, something went wrong, very, very, seriously wrong.

I’m going to forgive Ethan and Joel just as I’m trying to forgive Abe Vigoda for dying on me and Orson Welles for not paying attention to “The Magnificent Ambersons” and letting a studio destroy it.

“Hail” is not a total loss. Josh Brolin, really the lead, scores big, and George Clooney proves once again that comedy is his strongest card.

And it does have a few funny moments: One is an erotic throw away line from Scarlett to Jonah Hill, another is when a priest asks Eddie Mannix, “When was the last time you went to confession?”

“Twenty-seven hours ago.”

“That’s way too many times. What did you do?”

“I slapped a movie star.” That is SO Hollywood.

A highlight: The dancing sailors in a hilarious homo-erotic dance number led by Channing Tatum, who is pretty good at parody.

There were a few more funnies, but most of them are for insiders, not a good idea if you want folks in Maine to love you.

Keep watching the commercials for the film. All the best of it is right there for free.

J.P. Devine is a former stage and screen actor and the author of “Will Write For Food.”

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.