The Ladykillers

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The ViewAuckland Review

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Review byMatthew Turner21/06/2004


Three out of Five stars
Running time: 104 mins

Enjoyable Coen caper, enlivened by a strong comic performance by Tom Hanks, though not on the level of their pre-Intolerable Cruelty output.

When it was first announced that the Coen Brothers were set to remake Alexander Mackendrick’s 1955 classic Ealing comedy, reactions were mixed, to say the least. Primarily the question was; why bother remaking an established classic? Also, die-hard Coen fans were wary of the Brothers again working on studio-sanctioned material they had not originated themselves, particularly so soon after the relatively disappointing Intolerable Cruelty.

Fortunately for all concerned, The LadyKillers is not the cinematic travesty it might have been.

Heist Plan Compromised…Old Lady Must Die

The film is set in modern-day Mississippi, though it also has a vaguely 1950s feel to it. Tom Hanks dons a set of Comedy False Teeth and takes the Alec Guinness role as ‘Professor’ Goldthwait Higginson Dorr (Ph.D), an eccentric Southern gentleman who has assembled a gang of criminal “experts” for a planned heist on a riverboat called the Bandit Queen.

As a cover for their operations, they rent a basement from Mrs. Marva Munson (Irma P. Hall), a devoutly religious little old lady. However, when she accidentally stumbles across their scheme, the gang reluctantly decide they have no choice but to do her in. As the gang’s wily tunnelling expert The General (Tzi Ma) remarks: “We must float like leaf on the river of life…and kill little old lady.”

The film sticks surprisingly close to the original and includes several similar lines and moments – the ‘bit with the parrots’, for example, is now, a ‘bit with a cat’ and the disposal of the bodies takes place from a bridge that overlooks the Mississippi rather than a railway line.

One slight problem with that is that, while it’s easy to believe that trains pass under the bridge every five minutes, it’s less easy to believe in the multiple garbage scows that appear here.

Hanks Superb Yet Again

Hanks is superb in the lead role and his obvious enjoyment in playing the part is infectious. He also gets all the best (and most quotable) lines, such as “We must all have waffles forthwith” (since gang meetings are conducted in a waffle house) and his deadpan excuse for hiding from the police: “As you know, we academics are inordinately fond of wedging ourselves into confined spaces”

The supporting cast is also good, though Irma P. Hall (who won a prize at Cannes) is the standout as Mrs Munson. Apparently, in the scene where Hall slaps foul-mouthed Marlon Wayans (as Gawain MacSam) for his “hippety-hop” language, she actually slapped him for real, which is an amusing thought. In fact, Wayans isn’t as annoying here as he’s been elsewhere, though he does seem to belong to a different movie. On a similar note, Ryan Hurst is given practically nothing to do as ‘Lump’ (the muscle), though both J.K. Simmons (as Garth Pancake) and Tzi Ma fare slightly better.

Ultimately, your enjoyment of the film will rest on how funny you find Hanks’ character, as the majority of the gags are either recycled from previous Coen films or just plain fall flat. Having said that, it looks gorgeous and has a good soundtrack and, let’s face it, a sub-par Coen Brothers comedy is still better than the usual Hollywood trash. Worth seeing, if only for Hanks’ delightful performance.

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Content updated: 22/01/2020 02:33

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