The Coen Brothers have always been critical darlings, but their 17th film, the 1950s Hollywood-set comedy "Hail, Caesar!" has shown an unusually wide gap between critical raves and tepid audience response. This despite a star-studded cast that includes George Clooney, Scarlett Johansson, Josh Brolin, Tilda Swinton, Channing Tatum and Ralph Fiennes.

I come not to bury "Caesar" but to praise it ... but, aw, hell, we all know where that's going, so I may as well just plunge the knife in: "Hail, Caesar!" ranks in the Coens' filmography somewhere above "The Ladykillers" but below "Intolerable Cruelty," which is to say it has its moments, but not nearly enough of them.

Josh Brolin plays Eddie Mannix, an old-time '50s studio fixer whose job is to keep the unsavory episodes of Capitol Pictures' stars out of the headlines. (The character is loosely based on a real MGM exec of the same name who oversaw stars like Clark Gable and Spencer Tracy.) He's got his hands full with pregnant and unwed swimsuit star DeeAnna Moran (Johansson) and singing cowboy Hobie Doyle (Alden Ehrenreich), an eligible bachelor who's trying to cross over from hayseed to romantic lead.