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The Ladykillers (2004)

  Directed by: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen
Written by: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen, William Rose
Starring: Irma P. Hall, Tom Hanks, Ryan Hurst, Tzi Ma, J.K. Simmons, Marlon Wayans
Links: The Ladykillers on the IMDb, Official site, Buy the Soundtrack, Buy on DVD, Buy on Video
Genre: Comedy

This movie gets: 6.00 (1 rating)
nofreelist.com Ranking: not yet ranked (awaiting 2 ratings)

"Better luck next time" - a review by pearly

With The Ladykillers, filmmaker extraordinaires Ethan Coen and Joel Coen have remade the UK film of the same name The Ladykillers (1955), probably pretty safely assuming that given the original was a UK comedy from some 50 years earlier, that no-one would have seen it. I'm not sure whether there was a "black guy comedy" theme as part of the original (I doubt it), but this, along with a bit of a gospel choir musical theme, is central to this version.

The film at first appears to be set at around the time of the original film (the fifties), but it becomes clear that it's actually a fairly modern-day setting, with a couple of characters that are stuck a little in the past, or perhaps hail from places where they're not exactly up with the latest technologies.

Professor G.H. Dorr (Tom Hanks), a snappily-dressed Southerner with a fondness for big words and a tendency to try to over-charm anyone he speaks with turns up on the doorstep of Mrs Marva Munson (Irma P. Hall), a widow offering a room for rent. It is worth noting, because I like cats (but for no other reason), that Munson has a mischievous little tabby that goes by the name of Pickles.

Dorr tells the fussy Munson that he requires the room, as well as her root cellar, for band practice, as he plays gospel music with a group of men. In truth, though, Dorr has a wicked plan to tunnel from the cellar through to the safehouse of a casino, and steal all the dough. He's going to do this with help from the following. Gawain MacSam (Marlon Wayans) is the inside man - he has a job at the casino, and will help with timings etc. Garth Pancake (J.K. Simmons) is a munitions expert, who will take care of blowing holes into things. The General (Tzi Ma) knows how to tunnel. Lump Hudson (Ryan Hurst) is the braun. Dorr is the brains.

I'm a fan of the Coens. However, I didn't think this was their best work. Not by a fairly long way. It had the usual kinds of hijinks, and was pretty funny in parts, but it all just kinda washed over me, and didn't particularly impress.

I didn't like the gettin-jiggy-wid-it black guy comedy (Wayans just annoyed me), and I don't think that the Coens quite managed to bring out the best in Hanks (who can be great - possibly not as great as most people seem to think, but great nonetheless); his stupid laugh also annoyed me, and his drawn-out Southern accent speeches bored me after a while. I also didn't think much of the characters played by Simmons or Hurst, which is a pretty poor track rate - four of the six leads suffering from various degrees of dislike for me.

So, on to the characters that I thought were cool. The General was quite good, but he didn't really do all that much. But my favourite has gotta be the lady of the house. Hall played the cratchety old thing with style, and I particularly enjoyed her acting in the scenes where she was in the church listening to the choir.

The good thing about the Coens is that they don't make the same film over and over again. They always do something a little unusual. With O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000), it was bluegrass music, and with this, it's gospel, but it's more than just that. The locations and situations are also wildly varied. Another thing that they do is to cast a mix of "popular" stars (usually cast in roles that are against type for them) and "cult" actors, oftentimes getting superb performances from everyone - even people that you might usually think of as being quite ordinary.

With all this risk-taking going on, there's gotta be some room to fail. And I'm beating this up a bit much; I didn't hate The Ladykillers - far from it. It's just that I didn't think it was up there with the Coen brothers' other work. Which is a little disappointing, however I don't think I'll have to wait too long for the next one, and I'm quite sure that it'll be back to previous form. Incidentally, they appear to have dropped their long-running uncredited roles with directing/writing, and have gone with credits for all! Good on 'em.

pearly gives this movie 6 out of 10.
Review created on Tue 31 Aug 2004

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