The Ladykillers (2004) Movie Review

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Joel and Ethan Coen's hot hands finally have cooled with their remake of The Ladykillers, and fans could probably see it coming. For starters, as mentioned, it's a remake - uncharted waters for two filmmakers best known for placing their unique fingerprints all over their unusual projects. Their vision ends up being a productive failure that's silly rather than sophisticated. We're engaged by its oddities, but never really entertained.

The original Ladykillers pitted Alec Guinness, Peter Sellers, and their band of British crooks against a kindly old landlady in 1955. The Coens shift their action from England to the Deep South, where Tom Hanks wheezes and grins as a genteel criminal mastermind plotting to rob a Mississippi riverboat casino. He and his motley crew take up residence in the home of Marva Munson (Irma P. Hall), a churchgoing Bible Belter with a room to rent near the boat's dock. The men fool Munson into thinking they perform in a musical group, though they're forced to consider devious actions when the old lady discovers their criminal plans.

Ladykillers is Hanks' first stab at a Coen Brothers comedy and he comes away no worse for wear. His playful interactions with Hall - also a delight - cut through the forced politeness and zero in on this comedy's dark heart. Hanks gets credit for attempting to create a character we haven't seen before. In place of the rat-tat-tat verbal pace characteristic of a Coen comedy, he shoulders a soothing Southern stammer that emits from his amusing Colonel Sanders-meets-Montgomery Burns disguise.

It's rare that one character can spoil an entire ensemble, yet Marlon Wayans manages just that. This wayward fool brings so little to this table it's almost criminal; it should go without saying the Wayans-brand humor (Scary Movie) and Coen-brand humor (Raising Arizona) just don't mix. Unsure how to successfully deliver any laugh line, the buffoonish jerk falls back on assorted "F" bombs, which torpedo the production any time he plods across the screen.

Not that the Coens give Wayans or his co-stars much to work with. Jokes typically pander to the lowest common denominator, and if they work once, the Coens insist on using them again and again. Fingers rocket up people's noses, or are blown off completely and carried around in a house cat's mouth. A childish gag regarding one character's Irritable Bowel Syndrome quickly loses its luster but the desperate brothers repeatedly dust it off, looking for a laugh that never comes.

Sometimes Ladykillers spins in a complete circle. Other times it seems like chunks of scenes just vanish, left on the cutting room floor for the sake of pace. Sadly, the film finally finds its feet in the final 15 minutes and establishes a rhythm that could have helped move this sluggish picture along. Coincidentally, the best part of this film expands on the biggest laugh from the brothers' last film, Intolerable Cruelty, and that's the morbid humor we find in an unexpected death.

DVD extras include the usual making-of fare and a gag reel featuring Wayans getting slapped repeatedly.

A cold compress won't help.

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The Ladykillers (2004) Rating

" Weak "

Rating: R, 2004

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