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‘The Monuments Men:’ Monumentally Challenged

The Monuments Men is filled with Goodman, but that wasn’t enough for this World War II flick. Sure, the cast is a Murray of sunshine but get a Clooney, a great cast won’t do it if the script is super lame. Granted, it wasn’t so bad it should be Balabanned, but it was bad enough to warrant more than a titular terrible pun…

I do apologize for that, but that’s what this movie deserves. An excuse to get a legion of great actors together, The Monuments Men offers little in the way of actual substance. Though, what it leaves to be desired in terms of hearty dialogue and general, good moviemaking, it makes up for in old-fashioned, stagy, war movie fun times, sweeping, dramatic music, and half-assed jokes between well-known actors who usually aren’t in things together. And miraculously, at moments, that combination of old-people-pleasing qualities makes the movie kind of actually entertaining. AT MOMENTS, I said. A few, unexpected, fleeting moments.

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The Monuments Men is based on a true story. Self-appointed American hero, George Clooney, who plays Frank Stokes, leads an eclectic group of art experts and architects into Germany during World War II to rescue and return works of art that were being stolen by the Nazis. These men are far from soldiers, but they find themselves amidst the gunfire with a mission to bring home thousands upon thousands of missing pieces. With the help of Claire Simone (Cate Blanchett), a weirdly oversexed French resistance fighter who is passionate about saving art and also about getting a married James Granger (Matt Damon) to sleep with her, because, you know, they’re in Paris and it’s wartime, this ragtag group of old guys saves a bunch of paintings and zero Jews…but like, a WHOLE bunch of paintings, so that’s important too.

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The script is…lacking, I should say. Lacking what, you ask? Oh, enough different words to fill an almost two hour movie (several scenes end with two characters saying the same lines one after the other, the second in a grave, understanding tone: “Hard times.” “Hard times…”), any specific or emotional language, and any character development beyond the professions of these men. In short, they totally banked on a poster of recognizable faces to get people in the seats. Directed by George Clooney and written By George and Grant Heslov, The Monuments Men feels like a textbook outline of the classic film structure, one that they decided they didn’t need to finish once they nabbed the The Artist (Jean Dujardin) and the guy from Downton Abbey (Hugh Bonneville). The film almost seems purposefully trite, as if it wants to keep the focus on its star power rather than muddy that with positive reviews about the rest of the film. I can’t imagine that was the actual goal of the filmmakers, but it seems more like an excuse to have fun on set than an earnest attempt to tell a harrowing war story.

And this ends up being okay in some instances! It absolutely blows my mind that in a couple scenes, it is kind of actually enough that Bill Murray and Bob Balaban exchange glances or that John Goodman and Jean Dujardin high-five. And the old people with me at the Pasadena Arclight got some good chuckles in. The Monuments Men is sentimental and sensationalized and silly. It’s not an Oscar contender; it’s not even a contender for the best movie of the month (go see The Lego Movie). But it won’t hurt you, it’s not offensive, and a lot of great, adorable men are in it. Sometimes, by George, that kind of Bill of actors is Damon near enough. I CAN’T HELP IT WITH THE PUNS.

Grade: C

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