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The Ladykillers - Preview & US reaction



Preview by: Jack Foley

IT SOUNDS like a match made in heaven - Tom Hanks starring, for the firs time, in a film directed by Joel and Ethan Coen.

The film in question is The Ladykillers, a comic retelling of the critically acclaimed 1955 comedy, which made a name for Alec Guinness and Peter Sellers.

Hanks stars as Goldthwait Higginson Dorr III, Ph.D., a charlatan professor who’s assembled a gang of so-called ‘experts’ for the heist of the century.

The thieves are supposed to be experts in explosions, tunnelling, and muscle, as well as including the essential ‘inside man’, while the base of operations is the root cellar of an unsuspecting, church-going little old lady, named Mrs Munson (Irma P Hall).

The five thieves con Mrs into thinking they need a place to practice their church music, but while the set-up seems flawless, it quickly becomes evident that Dorr’s thieves lack the mental capacity to do the job.

The bigger problem, however, is that they have all seriously underestimated their upstairs host, who subsequently discovers their plot, and threatens to notify the authorities.

With this in mind, the five determine to kill her, thinking the task will be easy, but it won’t be the last time they underestimate her powers of survival.

The film co-stars Marlon Wayans, of Scary Movie fame, and JK Simmons, and is due for a US release in March.

The original 1955 movie was set in London, but the Coen Brothers have changed the setting to New Orleans, and has been on Touchstone’s ‘to-do’ list since 1995.

Ironically, Barry Sonnenfeld had intended to make it his next project after Men in Black 2, but opted to serve as producer instead, with the Coens set to bring their own brand of quirky, dark humour to proceedings.

According to some early online reports, the trailer seems to suggest that Hanks has created the Coens’ most memorable character since Jeff Bridges’ The Dude, in The Big Lebowski.

US reaction

The critical reaction to the Coens' latest was decidedly mixed when the film opened on March 26.

The Hollywood Reporter wrote that ‘the Coens' remake of a comedy classic flounders amid extreme caricatures and stained humour’, while Slant Magazine opined that ‘Joel and Ethan Coen's disappointing The Ladykillers is too trifling to be taken seriously, and too routine to inspire hilarity’.

The Los Angeles Times found that it was ‘grounded in caricature and played for loud, unmodulated laughs, the film suffers from the same problems that affected the Coens' other big dud, The Hudsucker Proxy - namely, little fun and no heartbeat’.

And Globe and Mail urged fans to ‘buy the soundtrack now, rent the movie later -- this is minor Coen in a major key’.

Rolling Stone merely lamented that ‘you'll have to watch the original film to see it done right’.

More positive, however, were the likes of the Hollywood Report Card, which wrote that ‘imperfections aside, "Ladykillers" is still a great deal of fun: excellent costuming, sweet cinematography, strong direction, and wonderfully crisp quirky dialogue’.

And Las Vegas Citylife, which wrote that it ‘has a good chance at being the year’s funniest film - and the only one with an English Bulldog wearing a gas mask. Tom Hanks gives the funniest performance of his career’.

Entertainment Weekly opined that ‘Hanks lends the movie the full, devious force of his bristly spirit’.

And the Chicago Tribune felt that it is ‘another offbeat Coen gem, gleaming with verbal and pictorial style, exploding with wit and slapstick’.

E! Online, meanwhile, wrote that ‘Hanks masters the wordy dialogue, and coconspirator Marlon Wayans has several memorable moments, but the cast focuses too much on characteristic mannerisms, which diminish the story’.

The Philadelphia Inquirer was also a fan, stating that ‘I'm not sure whether it's been so long since Hanks has done comedy that he just seems fantastically funny or whether he really is. But he's clearly enjoying himself, and so are we’.

While the New York Times raved: "Tom Hanks seizes the chance to play a comic villain with almost indecent vaudevillian glee in this uneven, prankish caper comedy by Joel and Ethan Coen."

The Dallas Morning News, however, seems to have spoken for the majority, with its comment that ‘the film gets funny reflex laughs as well as a few of the unexpected guffaws that are the Coens' trademark. So go - but with lowered expectations’.

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