Linda Lutzke (Frances McDormand) and Chad Feldheimer (Brad Pitt), are boofheaded personal trainers in a gym. Mesmerised by notions of perfection – particularly the Perfect Match – Linda trawls dating websites looking for Mr Right but concludes her body has passed its use-by date – "I've gotten as far as this body can take me …, " she laments.
The solution? Cosmetic surgery – boobs, lips, eyes, thighs. The Full Monty – with extra fries. But these procedures aren't cheap – as Dolly Parton remarked: "It's taken a million dollars to make me look this cheap." And Linda isn't exactly flush with cash.
Meanwhile, Federal Marshal Harry Pfarrer (George Clooney going around for the Brothers a third time), is also a slave to web dating and mating. He is ostensibly happily married but can't resist the lure of sexual conquest, following his wandering eye wherever it leads him. His inevitable encounter with Linda looks promising.
But before the nascent affair can kick into gear, Linda and Chad find a CD left at their gym by Osbourne Cox (John Malkovich), a CIA spook whose alcoholic tendencies have led to his dismissal from the agency.
Cox's wife, Kate (Tilda Swinton if you please), happens to be on Harry Pfaffer's merry go-round of assignations.
Surmising the contents of the CIA CD (containing tell-all revelations of the Agency's Balkans Operation desk) would interest Soviet Intelligence, Linda and Chad contact the Russian Embassy believing they can exchange it for a fat fee. Enough cash to expedite the cosmetic procedures.
It's a great set-up that could go anywhere – and does … up to a point.
The characters are all unhinged and, sadly, played that way – with the exception of Malkovich, who gamely takes his role seriously.
The usually reliable McDormand isn't up to scratch, Clooney is stratospherically over the top and even Swinton misses her mark as a dark and manic farce hits the wall, collapsing for want of a satisfactory denouement.
The brothers are more ventriloquists than directors here and their film suffers as a consequence. That said, you can't admire their hits without considering their misses.