March 31, 2004  
Volume 97, Issue 95  

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The Coen Brothers’ Ladykillers is tragically tepid

The Ladykillers
Starring: Tom Hanks, Irma Hall, Marlon Wayans, J.K. Simmons
Directed by: The Coen Brothers

By Mike Arntfield
Gazette Staff

Movie Web/ 2004
A CAREFULLY SELECTED CRACK TEAM. Above, Professor Dorr (Tom Hanks) with a muscle-man, explosives expert and tunneling expert. Below, Dorr nurses a headache, likely caused by the film, Ladykillers.

In a time of limitless and equally tedious remakes, this reprise of the 1955 British comedy which originally starred Sir Alec Guinness and Peter Sellers would at first seem to be a refreshing departure from the virtual kaleidoscope of cinematic stool samples which pepper the contemporary marquee.

In fact, The Ladykillers, by virtue of it not being based on a campy 1970s TV show, a video game or a fetishized B-movie, would seem to automatically elevate it to a level of comparative reverence as far as re-adaptations of existing stories go.

The casting of Hanks in the original Guinness role as the cunning and crafty professor and criminal mastermind, and the intrepid Coen Brothers as directors, would also seem to authenticate The Ladykillers as a seamless character piece. The reality is evident from the outset of the film, however, that despite some redeeming performances and script writing, the film is inherently flawed by virtue of its failed attempts to synthesize the old and new.

The underlying story is essentially true to the original, except for the change of locale from London, England to rural Louisiana, where Goldthwait Higginson Dorr III PhD (Hanks), a classical studies professor of the most machiavellian oratory prowess takes up residence in the stately home of a pious church-going widower in order to carry out his criminal enterprise. That enterprise involves the pilfering of a river boat casino’s $1.6-million reserve, with the help of a crack team of unrelated and equally eccentric men of desperation.

Minus some brilliant rhetoric on behalf of Hanks’ character, in addition to his ingratiating style of speech and his facade of southern gentility, the viewer is left with little interest in the team of cons who pose as devoted Renaissance musicians in order to use the home’s basement as a tunnelling site to the booty.

As a result, the Coen Brothers’ hackneyed attempts at conjuring both suspense and humour are fruitless, as the viewer is ultimately indifferent to the fates of what often become downright annoying characters.

Wayans’ stock character in particular is especially patronizing, as is the role of Garth Pancake, an irritating wretch played by J.K. Simmons, best known as Dr. Skoda, the psychiatrist in the Law & Order franchise.

In the end it’s Hanks’ performance and some artistic yet subtle cinematography that keeps the film mildly palatable, although not without great disappointment.

The juxtaposition between Hanks’ excellent linguistic performance and what is otherwise an infantile and spoon-fed narrative replete with gratuitous profanity and bathroom humour lead one to question who the film is targeted.

Equally questionable is whether the Coen Brothers are trying to artistically remake a film or merely re-invent it for latchkeys, as the dichotomous nature of the film’s conventions serve to undermine its clandestine moral agenda.

At best, The Ladykillers is a rental.



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