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THE LADYKILLERS

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Tom Hanks, Irma P. Hall, Marlon Wayans, J.K. Simmons, Tzi Ma, Ryan Hurst
Directors: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, French Dolby Digital 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio: Disney/Touchstone
Features: See Review
Length: 104 Minutes
Release Date: September 7, 2004

"I'm looking for a QUIET tenant."

"Madam, you are addressing a man who is quiet, and yet…not quiet, if I may offer you a riddle."

Film ***

The Coen Brothers have done it again! Once again illustrating that even while making a mainstream movie they never lose their pure quirky touch, filmmaking brothers Joel and Ethan Coen have delivered perhaps their most darkly humored film in quite some time. The Ladykillers is knockout caper comedy that honors the Coen Brothers' tradition of taking richly observed characters and placing them in the most bizarre of circumstances.

It's also, if I'm not mistaken, the Coen's first stab at a remake, and a successful one at that. The film is an update of a 1955 British comedy with Alec Guiness and Peter Sellers. I never saw the original film, and while I'm sure that the plot of the two movies are pretty much the same, this new version clearly gets away with some edgy stuff that only the Coen's could provide. I'm also sure that the remake has a few extra elements you simply couldn't get away with back in the 50s.

With the setting transplanting from London to the small southern town of Saucier, the story's central figure is Marva Munson (Irma P. Hall), an elderly church going lady and widower. She's an engaging spiritual type, yet the town's sheriff is put off by her tiring requests to tell her neighbor to stop blasting out what she calls "hippity-hop" music. She's so driven by her faith in the Lord, that she even donates five dollars a month to Bob Jones University. When she's not attending church, she's at home tending to her cat, Pickles, and talking to a portrait of her deceased husband.

When Ms. Munson is soon greeted at her door by the odd presence of Goldthwait Higginson Dorr (Tom Hanks), she doesn't know what to think. Dorr, proclaiming to be a professor of Latin and Greek, is responding to a sign in her window of a room to rent out. Dorr tells her he needs a quiet place to reside and for his band of musicians to make some church music-magic. She agrees to the request.

The professor then assembles his team of so-called musicians, each of whom is given a hilarious introduction. There's Gawain MacSam (Marlon Wayans), a trash talking janitor at a casino; Garth Pancake (J.K. Simmons), who specializes in demolition work, The General (Tzi Ma), a chain smoking silent individual who has tunnel digging experience, and lastly a brain-deprived football jock named Lump (Ryan Hurst). Needless to say, these guys have probably never even touched a musical instrument.

As it turns out, Professor Dorr is actually a man of criminal proportions. He has assembled his team of goons in the work cellar of Ms. Munson's home for one purpose; to dig a tunnel that leads all the way to a nearby riverboat casino, named the Bandit Queen, and to rob it. To supply their cover, the group has been given fake instruments, and a boom box to play the music which will cover their tunnel digging.

For Tom Hanks, not only does The Ladykillers mark the actor's return to comedy, but it results in his most eccentric performance in recent memory. For the role of G.H. Dorr, Hanks, acting with a set of fake teeth, has been given an appearance that so closely resembles Col. Sanders, and a dialect of speaking which sounds like a southern Vincent Price. Dorr quotes the work of Edgar Allen Poe quite frequently, adding even more of a bizarre element to the character. To cap it all off, Dorr possesses the single oddest form of laughing I've ever heard. It's quite a marvelous performance.

Although Hanks is considered the lead of the movie, The Ladykillers is more of an ensemble piece, where each actor in the cast gets their moment to shine. As the unsuspecting Ms. Munson, Irma P. Hall just about steals the movie with her performance. The movie also produces big laughs by way of Marlon Wayans and J.K. "Jameson" Simmons.

To appreciate a movie like The Ladykillers, you have to really have a certain sense of humor which isn't found in all comedies, but only in ones that are very dark. The Coen Brothers, who this time share directing credit in addition to writing, have maintained an element of bizarrely funny moments in each of their movies, and the last third of The Ladykillers provides their most dark moments of comedy perhaps since Fargo.

Though it doesn't come off a superior to any recent film from the Coens, especially Intolerable Cruelty, The Ladykillers is still a high worthy entry in their list of quirky and entertaining comedies. The madcap lunacy, mixed with Tom Hanks' biting performance result in a hugely funny sting of a caper comedy.

Video ****

Disney has provided a most outstanding looking disc! By now, one should expect a most fine looking piece of cinema when watching a Coen Brothers film, especially when the cinematography is provided by their long time collaborator, Roger Deakins. The anamorphic picture is consistently sharp and thoroughly alive with an immense level of detail and striking usage of colors, which are as vibrant as the human eye can detect. For certain, one of the more superb video offerings I've seen.

Audio ***1/2

The 5.1 mix delivers much bang. Like the Coens' O Brother, Where Art Thou, this movie happens to have a lively soundtrack of music. This time around gospel music, both old and contemporary, finds its way into many scenes in the movie. A couple of sequences of a church choir performing provide the presentation highpoints. Dialogue is extremely well delivered and heard, as is various instances of background noise. A strong presentation!

Features **

Surprisingly a bit light this time around. Featured is a "Slap" reel, featuring several outtakes of a scene where Irma P. Hall slaps Marlon Wayans repeatedly. There's also a featurette titled "Danny Ferrington: The Man Behind the Band", which explores the man who provided the musical instruments for the movie, and a compilation of deleted scenes of gospel music footage, titled "The Gospel of The Ladykillers".

Summary:  

The Ladykillers is a sharp and extremely well-executed comedy by The Coen Brothers. Mixing in fully realized characters with the Coens' signature level of dark humor, this is a much worthy addition to their list of quirky films.

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