A remake of the 1955 comedy, the story revolves around a Southern professor who puts together a group of thieves to rob a casino. They rent a room in an old woman's house, but soon she discovers the plot and they must kill her, a task that is more difficult than it seems.Written by
In the annuls of cinema, Character is king. Many can come up with a winning high concept idea but unless you fill it with a rich tapestry of Characters you've wasted time. For the greatest plot idea can become mundane if you've put the wrong character in the wrong place. Joel and Ethan Coen's THE LADYKILLERS is a mundane story that is saved by top notch and very rich performances. Mrs. Munson (Irma P. Hall, Soul Food) is a simple woman. She lives at home alone, she goes to church every Sunday, and she prays for the souls of those young kids listening to that "Hippity Hoppity" music. So when she rents a room to Professor Dorr P.H.D (Tom Hanks, Philadelphia) little does she know that her annual contribution to Bob Jones University will never be the same.
Dorr turns out to be a criminal mastermind, trying to pull off a simple casino robbery. He's acquired a crack team of losers and creeps to pull it off: Gaiwan (Marlon Wayans, Dungeons and Dragons) The Inside Man, Garth Pancake (J.K. Simmons, The First Wives Club) The Munitions Expert, The General (Tzi Ma, The Quiet American) the tactical man, and Lump (Ryan Hurst, Patch Adams) is the muscle. Will they pull off their brilliant plan? Only time and the two-hour running time will tell.
What the Coen's have crafted here is an acquired taste. The comedy is a little bit esoteric. The story plods along with almost reckless abandon, and they use swear words like their trying to buy a Ferrari with their swear jar. But something else is going on under the surface, a great character drama is unfolding.
Hank's overplays Dorr, but only to hide the fact that he might not be nearly as smart as he might claims. It's so subtle, and yet so garish I could see many thinking the performance is too over the top. But Hanks plays it so smartly and charming, you can't help but be enveloped into its complex layers.
I also liked how the Coen's screenplay polarizes it characters by playing the actors against each other. Dorr and Munson relationship works because it's the classic battle between brains and innocence. You may be able to quote Edgar Allen Poe, but if you can't do the right thing maybe you should get a real job.
The other great struggle is between Gaiwan and Garth. Gaiwan is a young black male with no conscience. Garth is a liberal white guy trying to knock sense into this stupid kid. Their escalating story builds from an almost a playful game of Older Vs Younger, but then raises the bar as it escalates into violence.
The Coen's have always had limited appeal because their films are dependent on audience involvement. You have to care for the characters; you have to put yourself in the characters place. Those who don't will leave the theater going that was weird, that was stupid, and that didn't make any sense. But that's why I like their films so much.
THE LADYKILLERS is worth the price of admission if you're interested in a silly and subtle character
drama but fails in plot. But boy it's a lot of fun, and if you give it a chance you might just walk away without that look of confusion you had on your face after THE HUDSUCKER PROXY.
**** out of 5
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