The Ladykillers Review
By Shawn McKenzie 03/26/2004
I don’t know how the Coen Brothers’ remake of The Ladykillers stacks up to the original 1955 version (since I’ve never seen it), but I do know that it is the latest example of their quirky comedic style. Add the talents of a Wayans Brother and the return of Tom Hanks to comedy and you have a fun film to watch.
Mrs. Marva Munson (Irma P. Hall) is an old African-American lady who lives in the small town of Saucier, Mississippi. She regularly goes to church and donates $5 a month to Bob Jones University. She is a nice lady, though she doesn’t have much tolerance for “hippity-hop music” and complains regularly to Sheriff Wayne Wyner (George Wallace) and Deputy Sheriff Lott (John McConnell) about the kids playing it too loud, especially Weemack Funthes (Jason Weaver) who blasts A Tribe Called Quest’s “I Left My Wallet in El Segundo” on his boombox all the time. She also runs a boarding house, which she has been running since her husband Othar passed away 20 years ago, and it is through that in which Professor Goldthwait Higginson Dorr, Ph. D. (Hanks) enters her life. He is a highly sophisticated gentleman specializing in dead languages and Renaissance music, and he especially likes to quote the works of Edgar Allan Poe. After retrieving her cat Pickles for her out of a tree, he seeks a room to stay in and her root cellar in which to practice his “church music” with his band. What she doesn’t know is that he is really a criminal mastermind, and he actually wants the root cellar to tunnel into the vault of the Bandit Queen riverboat casino, which is right across the street from her house. His “band” is really his cohorts in the crime. Garth Pancake (J.K. Simmons) is the demolitions expert who suffers from irritable bowel syndrome. He has been working on low budget projects like dog food commercials, and is looking to get out of it so he can live a life of leisure with his girlfriend Mountain Girl (Diane Delano.) Everything to him is the “easiest thing in the world,” though it is usually tougher than he had expected. Gawain MacSam (Marlon Wayans) is the “inside man” working as a custodian for the casino. He has an attitude, and swears a lot (garnering the film’s R rating), which serves him to become fired at one point. In order not to hinder the plan, Dorr convinces Gawain to bribe his boss, Fernand Gudge (Stephen Root), so his can get his job back, for at least another week. Nguyen Pham Doc, a.k.a. “The General,” (Tzi Ma) is a former General in the Vietnamese Army who now runs a small donut shop in Mississippi. He is the digging expert, but his smoking habit gets on Mrs. Munson’s nerves. The final member of Dorr’s band is Lump Hudson (Ryan Hurst), a lunkhead football player who always has a “duh” look on his face. Dorr has hired him to be the security and muscle of the team, though he seems to be the most useless member. Dorr uses his charm to distract Mrs. Munson from the tunneling going on in her root cellar, but at one point, she catches them. Though Dorr tries to convince her that the money will all be donated to charities, including a large sum to Bob Jones University, Mrs. Munson threatens to turn them into the police unless they give back the money and come with her to church to prey for forgiveness. It is at this point that Dorr realizes that they must kill the old lady, but deciding on whom to do the dastardly deed is another question entirely.
If you don’t count his voice work in the Toy Story movies, Hanks hasn’t been in a comedy since 1998’s You’ve Got Mail (though it had its comedic parts, I don’t consider Catch Me If You Can a comedy.) Ironically, Mail was a remake as well, of the 1940 classic The Shop Around the Corner. Now…if you also leave out romantic comedies (i.e. chick flicks), you will have to go all the way back to 1992 with his movie A League of their Own (I don’t count his 1996 movie That Thing You Do! because he only directed it and had a small part in it.) If you look at it that way, it has been twelve years since he has done a straight-ahead comedy.
So…is it like riding a bicycle? Did Hanks score another hilarious performance? Well…it was memorable. His pompous professor character is like nothing I have ever seen him do before. It almost reminded me of Kelsey Grammer’s Frasier Crane character in that they both ramble on about high-minded things that nobody understands. In fact, each of the characters in this movie are memorable, though I’m not sure I would say that they come together as an ensemble.
I actually liked the Coen Brothers’ last movie Intolerable Cruelty slightly better than The Ladykillers, but this one was fun. It is a black comedy, but it is the least bloody R-rated black comedy I’ve ever seen (if it weren’t for Wayan’s swearing, it would have gotten a PG-13 rating, despite all the murdering.) I’ll be curious if Hanks delivers the Coen Brothers their first ever $100 million grossing movie (the last movie featuring Hanks as one of the main stars that made less than $100 million was 1993’s Philadelphia, and even that one made over $77 million.) I like Hanks’ dramas, but at least I know that he still has the chops to do comedy, and I’d like to see him do more of them. Wouldn’t it be cool to see director Kevin Smith give Ben Affleck a break and work with Hanks instead?
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