Ok, ok, the title of the movie stinks and probably contributed to the movie hitting the basement, as soon as it was released. Still, it is a pretty clever and unusual movie. The premise is simple. The CEO and founder of a very successful, major corporation commits suicide. Consequently, his shares of the corporation must be sold publicly. To the dismay of the board of directors, this means that more than half the company will be owned by outsiders.
Corporate executive, Sidney Mussberger, wonderfully played by the ever handsome Paul Newman, devises a fiendish scheme to devalue the shares of the corporation. He will simply hire a numbskull and esconce him as the new CEO in order to drive the company temporarily into the ground, causing the value of the shares to plummet. The board of directors can then afford to buy the outstanding shares floating out there at rock bottom prices, retaining control of the corporation.
Sidney subsequently selects Norville Barnes, a dopey, but nice guy, played with cow eyed innocence by Tim Robbins, who works in the company mailroom, a place reminiscent of the movie Metropolis. Barnes happens to have an idea that he has been working on for years. When he shows a picture of a circle as representative of his idea, the viewer wonders just what the heck is so special about it. So does Sidney, who allows Barnes to execute his idea, believing him to be a total moron whose idea is just the thing to make the company stock tank. This is where the Coen brothers' cleverness begins to kick in. When the viewer realizes what that circle actually is, the movie will be kicking into full gear. It is, at times, hilarious. See the film to find out just what Barnes has been working on for years. Sidney learns that the best laid plans often go awry.
Barnes becomes enamored of Amy Archer, a female reporter, who smells that something is not quite right at corporate headquarters. The role is played by Jennifer Jason Leigh in an over the top, highly stylized, uneven parody of Katherine Hepburn. Still, she makes this affectation work in the context of this film. In fact, the rat-a-tat-tat tempo of her delivery contributes to giving the film its feel of a bygone time. The action in the film purportedly takes place in the nineteen fifties, but the sets are nineteen thirties art nouveau in feel and style, as is the rapid fire delivery of some of the dialogue. This creates an odd, somewhat disconcerting, dissonanace, contributing to the film's overall quirkiness.
This is an underrated film that deserves a look by movie lovers everywhere. It has the makings of a cult classic. Quite simply, the Coen brothers, two of the most talented filmmakers around, do it again!