[box cover]

The Ladykillers

To say that Joel and Ethan Coen's dark comedy The Ladykillers (2004) marks a departure for star Tom Hanks would tell only half of the story. Sure, Hanks, as an effete criminal ringleader, plays against the increasingly insufferable persona he successfully cultivated between Philadelphia (1993) and Castaway (2000), and returns to the mischievous comedy that launched his career on TV's "Bosom Buddies" and the sex romp Bachelor Party (1984). But, sadly, the once-edgy Coen Brothers meet Hanks halfway, churning out a pallid and uninspired comedy that is a far cry in quality from their outstanding best work (Raising Arizona, Barton Fink, Miller's Crossing, Fargo, The Big Lebowski, The Man Who Wasn't There) and not even up to the standard of their few missteps (The Hudsucker Proxy, O Brother Where Art Thou), which are nevertheless consistently inventive and funny while their narratives fail to cohere. Hanks stars as G.H. Dorr (no relation), a pretentious southern dandy lodging in the modest home of a pious widow (Irma P. Hall). Posing as a professor hobbying in Baroque music, Dorr covertly engineers a major heist with the aid of a bumbling crew of misfits, including gangsta Gawain (Marlon Wayans), demolitions enthusiast Mr. Pancake (J.K. Simmons), no-nonsense enforcer The General (Tzi Ma), and dumb-as-rocks muscle Lump (Ryan Hurst). While Dorr's foppish affectations are amusing and well played by Hanks, nearly every other character and set-piece is shockingly near-ordinary, and the gags are of a particularly low variety, relying on cheap slapstick, and, depressingly, scatological calamities. Hurst's Lump may be the worst character/performance in any Coen Brothers movie ever, presenting the stock "dumb guy" in its least amusing incarnation, making Michael Rappaport's similarly terrible role in Woody Allen's Mighty Aphrodite hilarious by comparison. What is missing most from The Ladykillers is that Coen Brothers style, which, you would think, them being the Coen Brothers, they would have in spades. It is no coincidence then that The Ladykillers is not an original work by the fraternal filmmaking team, but a remake of the 1955 Alec Guinness film of the same name. Also, with the movie's emphasis on black southern gospel choir music, one has to wonder if the filmmakers were more interested in replicating the saturating success of the retro-soundtrack to their 2000 flick O Brother Where Art Thou than in the storytelling at hand. So this is what the Coen Brothers are like when coasting (their 2003 effort, Intolerable Cruelty, was also inorganic to the Coens, establishing perhaps a pattern of slacking)? Not bad entirely, with a few fun moments, but nothing special, either. Buena Vista's DVD offers a good anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) with nice Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. The disc also includes a "slap reel" and two short featurettes about the film's music and musical instruments. Also included is a DVD-ROM "ScriptScanner" feature linking the screenplay to the film. Keep-case.
—Gregory P. Dorr

Back to Quick Reviews Index: [A-F] [G-L] [M-R] [S-Z]

Back to Main Page