The Coens Come Out of “No Country for Old Men” talking politics

Burn After Reading

Ethan & Joel Coen (Focus Features)

2 Stars

The new Coen brothers’ farce “Burn After Reading” makes Shakespeare’s famous line “Lord, what fools these mortals be” seem like icing on the cake.

Set in a blanched and vast Washington, D.C. suburb, “Burn After Reading” is a cry against humanity as peevish as a Robin Williams dis in “Hook.” “Lord, what moronic, self-centered, idiotic, scum-under-the-entire-universe, two-timing, shit-for-brains, ingrains these mortals be!”

Everyone gets a bite of this zany pastiche – starting with John Malkovich’s Osborne Cox. A CIA analyst canned by the CIA for his drinking problem, Cox seeks revenge by mumbling a “tell-all” ‘mem-wha’ into a tape recorder.

In the age of tell-all ruin, Cox’s recorded rants sparkle like hard gold when they fall into the hands of Hard Bodies Gym staff Linda Litze (Frances Mc Dormand) and the flamboyant gym-bunny Chad Feldheimer (played as poorly as his out-grown highlight job) by Brad Pitt.

When they discover the disc of his memoirs on gym grounds, this dark comedy gets darker and daffier as Chad and Linda become inept blackmailers. Thinking the memoir is top-secret information, they request $50,000 from Cox to finance Linda’s narcissistic need for reconstructive plastic surgery.

After viewing the exchange between Linda and her cosmetic surgeon, the sub-prime mortgage loan defaults of this year should come as no surprise. The release date couldn’t have been more perfectly timed. According to the Coen brothers, and the news today, greed begets stupidity and stupidity begets ruin.

“Burn After Reading” leaves the audience mollified, barely even able to squeeze out tense laughter.

While the brothers have made a comedic spectacle of staging the mess-ups and idiocies of mortals in the past – in the schemes to steal both babies and drug-store beer in “Raising Arizona,” and in the pot-prompted mistakes of “The Big Lebowski” – their shift into the depths of dark comedy is as enjoyable as a visit to Hades.

Not one character is likable – Cox’s wife, played by Tilda Swinton, is as pungent as a lime as she plots to leave her unemployed husband and force a relationship with the chimp-like conniving clown-with-a-job-U.S. Marshall Michael Pfarrer.

Their fiasco unfolds in tangent with the criminal shenanigans of Linda and Chad as Pfarrer (a mugging George Clooney) gets caught cheating on his wife.

It wouldn’t be a Coen brothers film if no one dies so we witness the death of the innocents and instead of a case closed, you get the feeling that doomsday has arrived