Mississippi mayhem  

A review of The Ladykillers

click to enlarge When the team's host, elderly church lady Mrs. Munson (Irma P. Hall) finds out about the plot, the felonious five  including Gawain (Wayans)  decide to do her in.
  • When the team's host, elderly church lady Mrs. Munson (Irma P. Hall) finds out about the plot, the felonious five including Gawain (Wayans) decide to do her in.

The Ladykillers (R)
Touchstone Pictures

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

  • A review of The Ladykillers

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