The Coens add into this mix a number of pastiches, not just of Roman and Biblical epics, but of Westerns and musicals, with a spot-on musical number featuring Channing Tatum as a sailor (in clear reference to "On the Town", 1949), one of the film's highlights. Being at heart a screwball comedy means the Coens' darker impulses are kept in check so that even the malevolent group the Future, who abduct George Clooney, are seen as charmingly misguided.
Josh Brolin displays fine comic skill and brings a layer of nuance to his serially perturbed studio boss character, while the ensemble cast match the all-star extravaganzas so popular in the nineteen-fifties: everyone seems to appear, from Tilda Swinton to Scarlet Johansson, Jonah Hill to a very memorable Aldren Ehrenreich as a singing cowboy.
Perhaps one criticism that could be made is that it never becomes more than the sum of its parts: the script, by the Coens, offers a wonderful whirlwind of episodes, jumping from Ralph Fiennes' refined director offering Ehrenreich elocution lessons to a distraught Brolin trying to hide the fact his biggest star is missing. Yet it never quite coheres into an organic whole and by the time it concludes, you're left feeling that it is a rather slight, shaggy-dog story: a lot of fun and frequently amusing, but not one of the Coens' masterworks, a minor work by major auteurs.
However, it would be churlish to deny the film's many pleasures, from Carter Burwell's score to the production design by Jess Gonchor, with costumes from Mary Zophres. It's authentically nineteen-fifties and that alone is reason enough to see it; combined with witty performances and deft direction, it almost doesn't matter that the film is about very little. Enjoy the ride and forget about the destination.