The Ladykillers is the latest in an increasingly long line of Hollywood remakes (sorry re-imaginations!!) this time of the classic 1955 Ealing comedy of the same name starring the combined comedic talents of Alec Guinness, Peter Sellers, Herbert Lom, Frankie Howard and Cecil Parker. The quality of these “re-imaginations” varies wildly with turkeys such as [b]Psycho[/b], and qualified successes such as [b]The Italian Job[/b], and [b]The Thomas Crown Affair[/b]. This entry into the “if it ain't broke why fix it?” school of filmmaking comes from the normally reliable Coen Brothers, and falls somewhere between the aforementioned examples in terms of it's success. The story, brought up to date and moved from London to the Mississippi delta, tells the tale of a motley gang of thieves led by Professor Dorr (Tom Hanks) a silver tongued man, educated in the classics and yet the possessor of a devious criminal mind. His crew consists of Mr Pancake (J.K Simmons), Gawain (Marlon Wayans), Lump (Ryan Hurst) and The General (Tzi Ma), and their plan is to tunnel from the root cellar of the Professor's rented rooms, to the money depository of the local casino. The plan is perfect and only one thing can go wrong, if the owner of the house, bible quoting, God fearing widower Mrs Munson, should happen to find out what's going on in her property.
The Ladykillers both in 1955 and 2004 is essentially a morality tale with comedy varying from slapstick, to witty dialogue, to humour as black as molasses. The Coens at present appear to be going through a lean spell, Coen Lite as some commentators have postulated, and Ladykillers is just such an offering. Like the [b]Intolerable Cruelty[/b] before it, it is by no means a bad movie. There are all the Coen trademarks, wonderful witty dialogue, which rewards repeated viewing, a ridiculous bunch of larger than life characters with mental stability issues, and a rich locale that is as much a part of the movie as the actors that populate the story. Tom Hanks has delicious fun as the morally corrupt scholar and lover of the dark prose of Edgar Allen Poe. J.K Simmons turns in his usual fine display as Mr Pancake, the explosives expert with IBS, and Irma Hall is a comedic revelation as the acerbic widower, but the rest of the cast are thinly drawn screen fodder with Marlon Wayans (the least talented of the Wayans clan - and that's saying something) doing his usual jive talking NWA.
Ladykillers fails to reach the heights of the earlier Coen catalogue such as [b]Fargo[/b] or [b]The Big Lebowski[/b], but not by much. Some of the dialogue is laugh out loud funny, repeated viewings reveal many comedic gems easily missed the first time round (the poster on the wall of the sheriff's office proclaiming “Re-elect Sheriff Wyner - He's too old to work”), and I will always find the humour in Marlon Wayans getting repeatedly slapped, but without getting too precious about it the original was comedic perfection that not even the Coens can improve upon.
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