The Ladykillers

2004, Movie, R, 104 mins

Review

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A leaden, tone-deaf remake of the 1955 Ealing comedy starring Alec Guinness, the Coen brothers' painfully unfunny rehash hinges on the duel of wits between five larcenous oddballs and one sweet but strong-willed old lady. Mrs. Marva Munson (Irma P. Hall), a right-thinking, widowed church lady, rents a room in her sprawling house on a quiet block near the Mississippi to one Professor Goldthwait Higginson Dorr, Ph.D. (Tom Hanks). Dorr, who's never met a bit of flowery verse or a convoluted circumlocution he didn't love, claims to be on sabbatical, writing a book and enjoying the opportunity to make Renaissance music with four like-minded friends. Mrs. Munson's interest in books begins and ends at the bible and, as for music, as long as Dorr and his friends aren't playing that hippity-hop filth the young people listen to, she doesn't much care. How fortunate that she should have a root cellar in which they can rehearse without disturbing anyone. But Dorr and his friends — Garth Pancake (J.K. Simmons), Gawain MacSam (Marlon Wayans), Lump (Ryan Hurst) and The General (Tzi Ma) — are actually planning to rob the Bandit Queen, a riverboat gambling establishment, by tunneling from Mrs. Munson's cellar to the ship's shore-based counting room. Naturally, Mrs. Munson catches them red-handed and insists that they return the money, or she'll turn them in to her good friends down at the local police station. No one wants to kill the old lady, but someone must. Though cowriters and directors Ethan and Joel Coen made their joint reputation mining the darkest veins of dark comedy, they were unable to find a take on the material that justifies a new version and simply substituted broad, loud farce for the original film's bizarrely threatening gentility. The genius of the original LADYKILLERS lies in the subtly calibrated relationship between a pack of self-styled villains drunk on their own wickedness and the old dear who's much more clever and more calculating than her sweetly solicitous dithering suggests. Mrs. Munson is just a brassy, big-bosomed busybody and Guinness' professor, a feyly reptilian schemer is reconceived by Hanks as a giggling, twitching logorrheac dressed like fried-chicken mogul Colonel Sanders. Reconception is good, but the concept isn't: Hanks' Dorr is so pointlessly irritating he's almost unwatchable. And speaking of irritating, neither irritable bowel syndrome nor Tzi Ma's ability to swallow and regurgitate a lit cigarette is the laugh riot the Coens seem to imagine. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh

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