The critics have been all over this movie for some reason. The usually reliable Salon.com sums up:
Beneath its movie star clowning, its awful-but-relatable heroine and its lightweight gags, “Burn After Reading” poses an implicit challenge to its viewers: Can you figure out why this comedy isn’t very funny? Could that be because its central proposition is that the people in the theater are just as stupid, just as gullible, just as eager to be deceived as the people on the screen?
While the often-unreliable New York Times misses the point with:
…the characters have been conceived as variations on self-deluded boobishness. Some (like Katie) appear sharper than others, others dumber (Linda), but they’re all punch lines in an overly extended joke. … but it’s a wonder they keep making films about a subject for which they often evince so little regard, namely other people.
Maybe after “No Country For Old Men” — for which the Brothers Coen didn’t really have to do very much to flesh out their characters because McCarthy had already done it for them — they were expecting otherwise. But I’ve always felt like their characters were to a certain degree cardboard cutouts put in place to execute great writing and directing. And I also don’t see anything especially wrong with that.
Because why should a bunch of fictional characters need to be sympathetic? Sitting there in the theater we laughed until we cried, especially the last scene with J.K. Simmons’ brilliantly deadpan turn as a CIA chief. Screwball comedies are supposed to have screwy characters, and this one’s got them.
I give it at least three stars.