Complaining that the Coen Brothers can be a little too smart-alecky is like bitching that de Sica was excessively humanistic: more than a little obvious, and completely beside the point. They am what they am, and putting aside the proposition that there's some moral/ethical prerogative to privilege humanism over smart-aleck-ness, how well you'll appreciate/enjoy these filmmakers' works depends on how readily you're willing to key into (which doesn't necessarily mean agree with) their perspectives. For myself, I found the Coens' latest, Burn After Reading, to be their most perfectly constructed live-action-cartoon film since Raising Arizona. (And no, since you asked, I don't consider the great Lebowski to be among their live-action-cartoon films. More like a takeoff on a Powell-Pressburger film on acid, among other things. I'll get into it another time.)
I imagine you've already read at least a dozen or so synposes of the film's plot, which saves me some work (ain't blogging grand?), but I haven't seen enough love given to the very deft way the Coens juggle a bunch of narrative balls here; for all its briskness of pace, the knotty plot of Burn reveals itself very deliberately, but without any flagging of energy. The doofus would-be blackmailers played by Brad Pitt and Frances McDormand (whose monstrous single-mindedness is both the movie's secret weapon and punchline) don't even turn up until almost a half-hour in. The zingers are, it seemed to me, even more plentiful and knowing than in an average Coen picture; I loved the indignance with which Malkovich's impossibly affected kneecapped CIA guy fumes "I have a drinking problem," and the thoroughly unimaginative stuff he drawls into his tape recorder as he improvises his "memwas": "George Kennan, a personal hero of mine..." Ouch.
No, you don't really "care" about any of these characters, just as you don't really "care" about Daffy Duck. I rather doubt that the Coen brothers aren't aware, when they do films such as these, that their characters lack depth. The caricaturing is the point. George Clooney's compulsive stud is kind of a special treat, augmenting the dimwit Gable he essayed in O Brother, Where Art Thou? and Intolerable Cruelty with touches of Patrick Warburton's dumbass sex toy David Puddy from Seinfeld; tell me you don't hear it in his character's post-coital mantra, "I should try to get in a run." To underscore the live-action-cartoon-ness, Clooney's climactic freakout almost explicitly recalls the meltdown suffered by Steve Brodie ("Everybody's turning into rabbits!!") in the 1949 Looney Tune Bowery Bugs. No, really. It does. Trust me. I'm a film critic.
In its way, though—in its incredibly goofy, nasty, and, let's say, smart-alecky way—Burn evokes a fallen world just as strongly as the Coen's previous film, No Country For Old Men, did. The signs of the apocalypse are everywhere here. Among them: People who say they're out to "reinvent" themselves, voice-activated HMO "help" lines, perky morning TV hosts, and, perhaps Dermot Mulroney (who is, in a sense, the most game of all the very game players here). And just as (possible spoiler alert here, although I don't necessarily think so, but then, saying "why don't you read it and decide yourself?" won't solve the problem either, so...) the Coens showed their viewers some mercy by not showing the awful way Moss met his fate in No Country, here they cut away from the action just as it's eddying into what would have been roiling grotesquerie, leaving two subordinate characters to provide the exposition, and, yes, do a little philosophizing. Which is much funnier than Uncle Ennis' .
Good stuff. Check it out.