This Coen Brothers comedy caper is based on the 1955 British movie of the same name, and tells the story of a rag-tag group of con-men and thieves as they attempt to rob a riverboat casino.
Starring Tom Hanks, Marlon Wayans, Irma P. Hall and J.K. Simmons, this adaptation of the British classic is filled with familiar names and faces, and it swaps the original’s London setting for the small town of Saucier, Mississippi.
The Ladykillers opens with Mrs. Marva Munson (Hall) visiting her local police station to complain about a neighbour who listens to rap music – and straight off the bat, Hall is set to steal the show. She perfectly captures the essence of the elderly Southern woman; sweet and pig-headed, devoutly religious and intolerant of almost everyone around her.
After returning home, she is visited by the slimy, smooth-talking Professor Goldthwaite H. Dorr (Hanks), who hopes to let Mrs. Munson’s spare bedroom. Dorr also asks Mrs. Munson if he might use her root cellar to rehearse with his band of classical renaissance musicians. Reluctantly, she agrees, and we meet his “musicians”; Lump (Ryan Hurst), the young, unintelligent muscle of the outfit, The General (Tzi Ma), a quiet and enigmatic doughnut cook, Gawain (Marlon Wayans), the crass and loud-mouthed inside man who works as a janitor on the riverboat casino, and Garth Pancake (J.K. Simmons), a jack-of-all-trades with horrific IBS.
It’s a Coen Brothers movie of appropriately unique proportions. With fingers being lost in explosive accidents, IBS flaring up at inopportune moments, and a series of comical mishaps regarding the attempted murder of Mrs. Munson, there’s a whole range of madcap comedy on offer.
While The Ladykillers is undoubtedly a dark comedy, its ability to make us laugh is far from its greatest asset. Tom Hanks delivers a brilliantly uncharacteristic performance as the morally inept Professor Dorr, and the ensemble cast works in perfect harmony to deliver a slightly ridiculous story steeped in hilariously tragic mishaps.
The Ladykillers is far from a perfect movie, though. It’s relentlessly silly, which becomes at times a little grating, particularly in moments that called for a little more conscience – at times, the Coen Brothers seemingly forgot that they’d tipped the movie as a dark comedy, and instead reached for the lowest common denominator.
The Ladykillers is, in almost every way, an Americanisation of its namesake: louder, sillier, with far less subtle charm, but likeable all the same.
It’s well-worth watching, but not if you’re looking for the usual tension of a heist movie, or for something with any sort of moral core. It’s by far one of the Coen Brothers’ weaker efforts, but when you take The Ladykillers at face value, its unique sense of humour makes it plenty enjoyable.
Summary: Solidly comedic performances from a number of talented actors, with Tom Hanks shining especially bright as the unscrupulous orchestrator of the movie’s central scheme. The Ladykillers might be a fairly shameless retread of its namesake, but it’s certainly not devoid of its own charms.