Film: The Ladykillers

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Film:

The Ladykillers

Director: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen
Honors:
Genres:
Distributor: Walt Disney Video

If you’ve never enjoyed Alec Guinness in the classic 1955 British comedy that inspired it, the Coen brothers’ remake of The Ladykillers may well prove hilarious. For starters, it’s got Tom Hanks in a variation of the Guinness role, eccentrically channeling Colonel Sanders, Tennessee Williams, and Edgar Allan Poe in his southern-fried performance as Prof. Goldthwait Higgins Dorr, Ph.D. (named after an actual arts institute curator from the Coens’ native Minnesota), a deliciously verbose con man who needs a secret headquarters for his five-man plot to rob a…

Reviews

Amazon.com

If you’ve never enjoyed Alec Guinness in the classic 1955 British comedy that inspired it, the Coen brothers’ remake of The Ladykillers may well prove hilarious. For starters, it’s got Tom Hanks in a variation of the Guinness role, eccentrically channeling Colonel Sanders, Tennessee Williams, and Edgar Allan Poe in his southern-fried performance as Prof. Goldthwait Higgins Dorr, Ph.D. (named after an actual arts institute curator from the Coens’ native Minnesota), a deliciously verbose con man who needs a secret headquarters for his five-man plot to rob a riverboat casino moored on the Mississippi. In the film’s funniest and least-caricatured role (and even she can’t elude the Coens’ comedic stereotyping), Irma P. Hall plays the churchgoing widow who rents a room to Dorr, whose crew of “musicians” (in keeping with the original’s plot) use the lady’s root cellar to tunnel to the casino’s cash-rich counting room. Rampant mishaps ensue, the body count rises among Dorr’s band of idiots (including Marlon Wayans, spouting nonstop profanities), and the Coens put their uniquely stylish stamp on everything. It’s a funny movie, allowing for some nagging flatness to the material, but if you’ve seen the original (and other vintage comedies from the heyday of Britain’s low-budget Ealing Studios), you’ll eventually wonder, what were they thinking? Accounting for all the qualities that grace any Coen movie (this being the first time the brothers have officially shared directorial credit), this revamped Ladykillers is a mixed blessing, both entertaining and superfluous. —Jeff Shannon

Barnes and Noble

The classic 1955 British black comedy starring Alec Guinness and Peter Sellers gets a thorough updating and change in location for this droll remake written and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen (Fargo). The Guinness role is reworked for top-billed Tom Hanks, delightfully eccentric as Professor G. H. Dorr, an old-school southern gentleman who poses as a music teacher while secretly masterminding bank robberies. For their latest caper, Dorr and his equally eccentric associates (Marlon Wayans, J. K. Simmons, Tzi Ma, and Ryan Hurst) have chosen a casino; their planned means of access is a tunnel they’re digging from underneath the home of Dorr’s churchgoing landlady (Irma P. Hall). When the old woman begins to suspect the professor’s “students” have something other than music lessons in mind, she becomes an obstacle that must be overcome…or removed. No strangers to black comedy, the Coens manage to make Hanks and company likable even when they’re expressing murderous intent. The secondary characters are limned carefully, with Simmons—best known as newspaper editor Jonah Jameson in the Spider-Man movies—a clear standout as an explosives specialist with alarming lapses of judgment. Hanks, the recipient of numerous close-ups, squanders no opportunity to mug for the camera while he rattles off dialogue in a molasses-thick Dixie accent. Irma P. Hall has the toughest assignment, playing straight to these oddballs. But she gets plenty of laughs herself, especially when chastising Marlon Wayans about contemporary music like “hippity-hop.” Although the coming attractions made Ladykillers seem relatively benign, don’t be fooled: This movie has plenty of edge and a denouement that will be especially surprising to anyone who hasn’t seen the original. Ed Hulse

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