By Eleanor Ringel Cater
“The Monuments Men” is not “Ocean’s 14.”
For one thing, it doesn’t have Brad Pitt.
For another, it’s set during World War II.
For a third, well, it’s not even as good as “Ocean’s 12” or “13.”
Based on a true story, George Clooney’s latest group effort reunites him with Matt Damon, but adds Bill Murray, John Goodman, Bob Balaban, Jean DuJardin (“The Artist”) and Hugh Bonneville (yes, M’Lord himself from “Downton Abbey”) to the mix.
It seems the Nazis are yet again behaving badly. This time, instead of smoking Jews, they’re ransacking Europe’s great museums and private collections. So, under orders from President FDR, Clooney gathers together assorted art experts, museum types, historians and even a couple of artists.
Their mission: head for the front line and protect/recover the thousands of art treasures at risk, from bombs (theirs and ours) or from stockpiling Third Reich art lovers who wouldn’t mind a Renoir in the den to remind them of how well they fought for their country.
This effete half dozen are rushed through basic training and duly dispatched. Damon is lucky enough to land in Paris where Cate Blanchett (first going all-out-mousey, then sexy librarian) helps him out. The rest? Well, we’re talking character actors and foreigners…
Clooney’s head and heart are in the right place, as they usually are when he tackles serious subjects in movies like “Good Night, and Good Luck” or “The Ides of March.” But his head — and perhaps his heart — is full of jaunty/serious ‘60s movies like “The Guns of Navarone” or “The Dirty Dozen.” And while there’s a certain fun to be had from watching such 4-F types as shrimpy Balaban and bloated Goodman get to fight the good fight, Old Hollywood —even as it was going down the drain —knew audiences wanted to see soldiers who looked like Steve McQueen or Lee Marvin.
There’s a reason “The Monuments Men” was taken from its holiday slot and moved to February. Somebody — Clooney perhaps — knew the picture just didn’t have the goods. That it’s dull and preachy, despite its fine cast.
Yet the question Clooney is bold enough to ask remains an important one: is any work of art, no matter how important, worth the life of a human being, no matter how unimportant?
Maybe the whole thing would’ve worked better with subtitles.