The Ladykillers
R E V I E W   B Y   R I C H   C L I N E dir-scr Ethan Coen, Joel Coen
with Tom Hanks, Irma P Hall, Marlon Wayans, JK Simmons, Tzi Ma, Ryan Hurst, Diane Delano, George Wallace, John McConnell, Jason Weaver, Stephen Root, Baadja-Lyne Odums
release US 26.Mar.04; UK 25.Jun.04
04/US 1h44

Afternoon tea, how civilised: Hanks and Hall
wayans and simmons

hanks ethan joel
The Ladykillers (International) Support Shadows: Buy a Poster
For this remake of the 1955 Ealing comedy, the Coen Brothers share directing credit for the first time, mixing their love of detailed period farces (The Hudsucker Proxy, O Brother Where Art Thou) and free-wheeling black humour (Fargo, Blood Simple). It's not a flat-out success, but it's still great fun.

Professor GH Dorr (Hanks) is one of those smooth-talking Southern gentlemen who belong to another time and place. Happy to speak an entire paragraph where one word would do, he blinds everyone with his verbosity, especially the nice old woman, Marva (Hall), who runs the Mississippi boarding house that's conveniently located next to a casino he's planning to rob with his rag-tag cohorts (hip-hopper Wayans, explosives expert Simmons, Vietnamese tunneller Ma, muscle-head Hurst). They say they're practicing religious music in the cellar, but Marva can tell something's not quite right.

There's a hilarious streak of vicious comedy that quickly lets us know just about anything can happen. And it does. The Coens play gleefully with death--accidental, deliberate, fatalistic--while catching us off-guard with startlingly funny touches when we least expect them. Meanwhile, they work with their cast to constantly subvert stereotypes; no one is quite as helpless, hapless, efficient, ruthless or stupid as we think they'll be. The string of errors and inconveniences suffered by this gang is great fun to watch; each of them seems to come from a different film genre, and yet it somehow comes together due to their sharply focussed performances.

The Coens fill the film's edges with Southern culture, from terrific gospel music to down-home hospitality and wary friendliness. It's impeccably designed and filmed, as you'd expect, with touches that are clever (the ubiquitous garbage scow) and overused (Simmons' disastrously irritable bowel). And even if it's not quite consistent enough to keep us laughing nonstop, when it does hit a funny high note, it soars. Like The Big Lebowski, it feels like it was probably funnier on the page than on screen. The result is extremely slight, but it's also consistently enjoyable, especially when we realise that no matter how perfect Hanks is, Hall is the real star.

cert 15 themes, language, violence, vulgarity 10.Apr.04

R E A D E R   R E V I E W S
send your review to Shadows... The Ladykillers Laurie T, Minneapolis: 2/5 "I read one review from a critic who hated this movie - the guy on TV loved it. It is being advertised as the funniest movie of the year. Okay, so it is early in the year, and quite frankly I doubt it will hold that claim long. This movie is funny - I will grant that. It has some hilarious moments, but overall I can't say it is THAT funny. Tom Hanks plays this quirky crook - almost over the top, a bit too quirky - but seems to be having fun, and the whole bathroom humor thing - irritable bowel syndrome having a support group - sigh. What can I say? We did laugh - but not THAT much. It is a funny movie, just not the funniest this year. And I thought it seemed a bit long in some parts. I did not hate it - just did not like it that much." (28.Mar.04)
2004 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall