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Burn After Reading

The Coen brothers indulge in some funny business.

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Mistaken identities, misplaced desires, rocky marriages and the self-important, semi-paranoid state of life within the Washington. D.C., beltway combine to propel a near-meaningless act -- a computer disc is accidentally dropped at a gym -- into a roundelay of betrayal, law-breaking and bloody violence. This light dark comedy from the Coen brothers feels like an amuse bouche -- a tasty trifle to be popped between the filmmakers' heavier dramatic courses. (Heads are still being scratched over their last blood-soaked brooder, No Country for Old Men.) A tip-top cast keeps Burn's farcical plot afloat: Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton, Richard Jenkins, George Clooney and a loosey-goosey Brad Pitt. Most play this silliness straight, though John Malkovich indulges his histrionic side as the high-strung intelligence analyst who sets the whole mess a-rollin'. It's all good fun and well played, and if the ending has some loose threads, J.K. Simmons' perfect deadpan delivery will at least leave you laughing. Starts Fri., Sept. 12. (AH)

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