The Ladykillers (R)
D isclosure: I have not seen the Ealing Studios of London's 1955 original Ladykillers starring Alec Guinness and Peter Sellers. So this review will not be filled with nostalgia for that little-known film that has gained legendary status among movie critics now that the Coen Brothers have remade it in America with -- gasp! -- Tom Hanks in the Guinness role.
A virgin viewing of The Ladykillers, minus a mandate for critical comparison with the original, was in all honesty a pleasant experience. No, this is not one of the Coen Brothers' greats (Raising Arizona, Fargo, O Brother Where Art Thou?), but it is on a par with their lesser films, the ones they churn out year after year between the biggies.
Hanks is Goldthwait Higginson Dorr III, Ph. D., a poetry-spouting con man who takes up residence in the coastal Mississippi home of Miss Marva Munson (Irma P. Hall), hoping to tunnel through her basement walls to the safe of a neighboring river casino. Professor Dorr's merry ban of bungling burglars includes Marlon Wayans as a foul-mouthed casino insider; J.K. Simmons as Garth Pancake, a Coen-inspired former Freedom Rider turned vigilante; Tzi Ma as a southeast Asian munitions expert; and Ryan Hurst as Lump Hudson, the brawn of the operation whose brains have been obliterated by ritual football abuse.
Hanks hams it up with bad teeth and a hilarious spit-splattering snicker. Ms. Hall is a formidable screen presence and Wayans gives a flawless comic performance. The caper takes up most of the screen time, but the film is framed around scenes of the decaying Gulf town -- Miss Munson marching bow-legged down dusty streets past abandoned store fronts, a garbage barge that plows down river continually, dumping its contents on a small off-shore island -- all gorgeously filmed.
The Coen's re-inhabit a dream South accented by a rousing folk and gospel soundtrack. Hanks has more fun here than he has in years, and his smooth talking schtick -- Alec Guinness comparison be damned -- is something worth seeing.
Cinemark 16, Tinseltown