The Ladykillers

The movies of Joel and Ethan Coen seem to hopscotch states and time periods, and their latest is a trip back to the Deep South. The Coens like to make movies where the setting plays an integral part of the film itself. They also like to make movies that have an old-fashioned feel to them. After watching their movies, usually full of oddball characters, it's obvious that they are not the run-of-the-mill filmmakers. Fittingly, The Ladykillers is a remake of the 1955 movie starring Alec Guinness about a bunch of crooks planning a heist only to have it outwitted by their landlady. The shell of the story remains the same in this remake, but now the setting moves to the South. Everything becomes an eventual comedy of errors, but the comedy never really reaches a high point. All in all, it falls in the middle in terms of creative output by the Coens (Intolerable Cruelty, The Man Who Wasn't There).

It's strange, because most of the elements are in place. The crooks and their individual quirks are amusing. The gospel music, produced by T. Bone Burnett (Cold Mountain, O Brother, Where Art Thou?) is heavenly, the setting fitting, and the lady, one Marva Munson (Irma P. Hall, Bad Company, Our America), a fine, upstanding Christian woman. Things just never gel together enough, creating a movie that moves in fits and spurts. It borders on screwball comedy, then adds in some uncharacteristic toilet humor. The Ladykillers also gives Tom Hanks to do a full-blown comedy, something he hasn't done for quite some time. Hanks (Catch Me If You Can, Road to Perdition) plays Goldthwait Higginson Dorr, PhD, the mastermind with a long, flowery name and equally flowery language. He loves Edgar Allen Poe and speaks and laughs with a very odd cadence. He rents a room from Munson, who finds him a little odd, but otherwise doesn't mind. The plan is simple. Dorr (somehow, when he pronounces it, it stretches to two syllables) and his associates with pose as a Renaissance band practicing in the Munson basement. There, they will tunnel to a vault, steal money from a safe, and get away scott free.

The man on the inside is Gawain MacSam (Marlon Wayans, Scary Movie 2, Dungeons & Dragons), who works in the casino that owns the vault. Garth Pancake (J.K. Simmons, Hidalgo, Spider-Man) is the munitions expert who also has a horrible case of irritable bowel syndrome, Lump Hudson (Ryan Hurst, We Were Soldiers, Venus and Mars), a hulking football player there for muscle, and the General (Tzi Ma, The Quiet American, Catfish in Black Bean Sauce), a Vietnamese tunneling expert. It would seem that this is a pretty good group, but this is a case of reverse synergy, where the parts do not even come close to the sum. They quickly suffer from petty infighting, and every little spat becomes a major conflagration. Nothing goes the way they want, with errant cats, a blown off finger, a lost job, and all other sorts of setbacks throwing monkey wrenches into what seemed like a good plan.

Worst of all is Munson. Hanks and Hall play wonderfully off each other. Munson suspects something fishy is going on, and is friendly bordering on nosy. This will not do for Dorr and his crew, who dislike her constant interruptions. She is just an ordinary black woman compared to his esteemed intellect, yet she soon poses the biggest threat to Dorr's plans. Nothing seems to go Dorr's way in his little mini-war against his landlord. Worse, Munson isn't actively setting out to defy all of Dorr's plans, it just seems to happen that way. Everything culminates in a farce like sequence at the end, but whether or not the uneven comedy of the rest of the film justifies sitting through to get to this point is another matter. If anything, The Ladykillers is more amusing than funny, and kind of chugs along until the final act.

Haro Rates It: Not Bad.
1 hour, 44 minutes, Rated R for language including sexual references.

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