Film Reviews

THE LADYKILLERS

By • Mar 26th, 2004 •

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Buena Vista Pictures
Touchstone Pictures presents a Tom Jacobson production
Running time — 104 minutes / MPAA rating: R

How many of us can recall the 1955 original starring Alec Guinness? Okay, so no need to judge this by that. Screenwriter-directors Joel Coen and Ethan Coen’s remake must stand on it’s own.

Somewhere in the South, deep inside Baptist Bible Belt country, blowhard Professor G.H. Dorr (Tom Hanks) turns up and rents a room from Marva Munson (Irma P. Hall), a devout widow and churchgoer. What Dorr wants is momentarily interrupted as we are given quick glimpses into the lives of several other men: Gawain MacSam (Marlon Wayans), a foulmouthed riverboat casino laborer, Garth Pancake (J.K. Simmons), an explosives expert, The General (Tzi Ma), an archetypal Asian killer now the owner of a convenience store, and Lump (Ryan Hurst), a very dumb, inarticulate football player. Dorr introduces the men to Marva as his Renaissance music troupe. They will use her basement to practice.
What they really intend to do is tunnel from Marva’s basement straight to the storage office of the gambling casino and steal a lot of cash.

It takes quite some time to figure out this is a modern day tale, what with Dorr wearing Sherlock Holmes clothes and using a flowery, decadent speech pattern resplendent with an inappropriate giggle. Only MacSam’s constant vulgarity clues us it’s a present day piece. Everything else seems trapped in a time warp. Soon the characters converge and we watch Dorr’s plans twist and turn, mainly due to the temperaments of his volatile team and Marva’s no-nonsense morality.

With Dorr’s insistence on quoting Edgar Allen Poe’s poetry and speeches that slow the pace, THE LADYKILLERS lumbers as a muddy, light-hearted mess. Hanks takes obvious pleasure in his relaxed, flung-to-the-wind character while Hall’s Marva nearly sideswipes Hanks. For a con to work, you have to be sincere. All the players except Dorr are invested and committed. Besides money, what is he about?

There is an underlying sense that the Coens’ approach to the material is condescending. They do not like their buffoon characters. We like buffoons who think they are smart and then get their comeuppance.


Credits:
Screenwriter-directors: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
Based on “The Ladykillers” by: William Rose
Producers: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen, Tom Jacobson, Barry Sonnenfeld, Barry Josephson
Director of photography: Roger Deakins
Production designer: Dennis Glassner
Music: Carter Burwell
Costume designer: Mary Zophres
Editor: Roderick Jaynes

Cast:
Professor G.H. Dorr: Tom Hanks
Marva Munson: Irma P. Hall
Gawain MacSam: Marlon Wayans
Garth Pancake: J.K. Simmons
General: Tzi Ma
Lump: Ryan Hurst
Mountain Girl: Diane Delano

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