During last year’s No Country for Old Men press conference, there were no more than a few dozen of us attending. The brothers seemed low key and disinterested, and the film left the fest with hardly more than a blip of buzz from major critics (save, naturally, this trusted critic). Going on to win Best Picture vindicated some, but once again opened up expectation games for those quick to dismiss the Coen’s and their work.

Written during the pre-production of No Country (similar to their work ethic during the Barton Fink/Hudsucker Proxy era), they have followed last year’s somber, quirky film with a silly, quirky film. This is no simple comedy, yet has enough farce and slapstick for laugh-out-loud moments. Borrowing from the Tony Scott school of filmmaking (complete with Satelite imagery push in, and stern, typed-in-turn screen text) we meet another bunch of clueless idiots in over their heads, this time in Washington. When a CD is found in the changeroom at Hardbodies, a blackmail plot is contrived to try and extort money from a fired CIA agent without enough clearance to have any information that would do any harm.

Snarling Russians, car chases, even gun play make for a semi-authentic thriller, but it’s contantly undermined by the moronic activities of the central characters. The A-list actors milk their screen time, fitting into their “character actor” roles with great zeal. Malkovich, bitchy and aggravated in a housecoat, is outshone by Pitt’s portrayal of a Hardbodies excercise employee cum three year old, complete with his side-of-mouth sippy cup. Clooney’s almost as fun as he was in Oh Brother, and his “running” gag is a delight, along with his metal working, sculptural skills. Finally, wile it’s certainly a pleasure to see Tilda being a bitch and McDormand nailing her vapid role, the film is completely stolen by, of all people, J.K. Simmons and David “Sledgehammer” Rasche. Summarizing the film neatly as some beurocratic greek chorus, they point to the existential futility and moral vacuity of Washington’s populace.

Look for this to be a slow burn, with repeated viewings and time being far kinder to this flick. Already some are describing this as a disappointment (“nothing happens!”) – this couldn’t be further from the truth. While no Lebowski or Miller’s Crossing, this is a top notch, silly piece of fun fluff, as if Michelangelo had dabbled in black velvet paintings of clowns after that ceiling of his. Bravo, boys, once gain you’ve released a triumph.