Delightfully manic and Southern Ladykillers

March 29, 2004, midnight | By John Visclosky | 16 years, 9 months ago

The Coen brothers and Tom Hanks make for a very odd team.

In The Ladykillers, Hanks plays Goldthwait Higginson Dorr, an effortlessly and devilishly charming faux-professor who verbosely talks his motley crew through a complicated burglary of a casino boat vault.

There's Pancake (J.K. Simmons) whose irritable bowel syndrome perpetually complicates the robbery, the General (Tzi Ma), a simmering chain-smoker, Lump (Ryan Hurst), the appropriately oafish muscle, and Gawain, a motor-mouthed, hot-tempered young fella' doing his best impersonation of Marlon Wayans, who, coincidentally, happens to play him.

But what would any heist movie be without the perfect foil, that one loose screw that ruins an entire factory? Enter Mrs. Munson (Irma P. Hall), a gospel-loving, grandmotherly woman all too charmed by Dorr's whiles and quite opposed to "that hippity-hoppity language." In order to infiltrate the casino, Dorr rents out Munson's basement under the pretense of rehearsing with his quintet while secretly tunneling straight into the vault.

The Ladykillers, a remake of the 1955 comedy of the same name which starred Alec Guiness, does for gospel what O Brother, Where Art Thou? did for bluegrass. The church scenes and the soundtrack are as much fun as the movie itself. The music seems to set the scene for the manic energy of the movie, perfectly facilitating the odd comedy of the Coens.

Helping to make the entire, ridiculous premise of the movie just a bit more believable is Hanks, who meandering, wordy conjectures are highly stylized (what else can you expect with the Coens also penning the script) and entertaining. Hanks transitions easily between Dorr's aw-shucks-watch-me-be-as-polite-and-endearing-as-Forrest-Gump persona and his delightfully evil criminal side.

The Ladykillers is a Coen brothers movie more so than last year's Intolerable Cruelty, because its comedy is less broad and more stylized. The director, writer and producer siblings seem to be far more comfortable working within their own vein of quirky humor. They make movies for themselves, and if the rest of us happen to like them, too, well then, that's just an added bonus.

The highly stylized and highly personal vision of a Southern robbery gone wrong is not for everyone, and even devoted fans of the Coens may not find that The Ladykillers preaches their particular gospel. But, Hanks and his crew of character actors make the movie worthwhile. The film isn't the best that the Coens have ever done, but it's a lot better than most of the garbage offered to viewers in the first few months of each year.

The Ladykillers is rated R for language and sexual references.

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John Visclosky. John Visclosky is, suffice it to say, "hardly the sharpest intellectual tool in the shed," which is why he has stupidly chosen to here address himself in the third person. He's a mellow sort of guy who enjoys movies and sharing his feelings and innermost … More »

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