The Ladykillers (2004) / Comedy-Thriller
MPAA Rated: R for language and sexuality
Running Time: 104 min.
Cast: Tom Hanks, Irma P. Hall, Marlon Wayans, J.K. Simmons, Tzi Ma, Ryan Hurst, George Wallace, Diane Delano
Director: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen
Screenplay: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen
Review published September 1, 2004
Perhaps the lesser of all of the Coen Brothers’ (Fargo, The Big Lebowski) films, their remake of the 1955 film, The Ladykillers, proves to be just too disjointed to fully enjoy in its totality. Blame miscasting of the supporting roles for the reason it doesn’t work, as the performances by Tom Hanks (The Terminal, Saving Private Ryan) and co-star Irma P. Hall (Collateral, Steel) prove to be the only actors in the production that feel just right. The rest of the cast don't work at all, with especially strained attempts at humor coming from Marlon Wayans (White Chicks, Scary Movie), J.K. Simmons (Spider-Man 2, Hidalgo), Tzi Ma (The Quiet American, Rush Hour) , and Ryan Hurst (Remember the Titans) most scenes involving them are painful to endure. As ambitious as the Coens are in making it a fun bit of southern gospel whimsy, the laughs just aren't there, and neither is much of the interest, as the wild characterizations fail to jibe with the subtleness of the material, which should have been far more acute in its delivery.
Hanks reigns supreme playing the silver-tongued professor, G.H. Dorr, PhD., who travels to a tiny Southern town and rooms with an elderly Black woman named Marva Munson (Hall). While there, he concocts a scheme where a variety of men from different backgrounds come into the home under the false pretense of being musicians. They obtain access to the basement, where they plan on doing some major excavation and dig a hole right into a riverboat casino, where they plan to steal a fortune.
Hanks is a delight to watch as the classicist and poet who struggles to pull the wool over the unsophisticated, but intuitive woman of the house. The performances of both thespians is enough to create some of the film’s more genuine laughs, as they effortlessly riff in contrast to one another but never lose their comic timing. This timing didn't translate well to the others, unfortunately. Wayans tries to ham his way into the stereotypical homeboy role, but he is too geeky to really buy as a gun-toting thug of the streets, which we've seen him lampoon many times before. Monotonic Simmons never seems like a genuine person, and so little is done with Ma and Hurst in their one-joke characters, they feel like mere padded characters to try to squeeze in a few more lowbrow laughs.
The shtick is just too broad. If you need to have a painting changing expressions to try to evoke hilarity, you’re overreaching a style of farce completely beneath the talents of the normally wonderful Coens. Even the gospel music, which is wonderful, seems to be far too prominent in this feature, as the Coens attempt to deliver another regionally developed hit soundtrack akin to O Brother Where Art Thou? They try their hardest, but perhaps overly so, as The Ladykillers proves to be one of their least humorous or interesting films to date. Fans of Hanks and Hall should have plenty to respond to, and fans of all the Coen works will want to give it a look, but for everyone else, this is a hit-and-miss endeavor that misses far more than it should given the talent of everyone associated with it.
©2004 Vince Leo