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The Ladykillers (15)



Review by: Jack Foley | Rating: Two

DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: The Gospel of the LadyKillers; The Man Behind the Band; The Slap Reel.

NOT content with maintaining their own high standards, the Coen brothers now attempt to pay homage to an Ealing comedy classic, in the form of The Ladykillers, a hilarious little heist movie which starred Sir Alec Guinness and a very young Peter Sellers.

The film which results fails to reach the giddy heights set by both the Coens and Ealing Studios (in 1955), but remains an enjoyable romp that consistently keeps a smile on the face.

Tom Hanks returns to laugh-out-loud comedy for the first time in more than a decade as Goldthwait Higginson Dorr, Ph.D, a charlatan professor, who assembles a gang of so-called experts to pull off ‘the heist of the century’ - namely, the land-based counting office of a gambling riverboat, which seems ripe for the taking.

The ‘experts’ in question are comprised of Marlon Wayans’ motor-mouth inside man, Gawain MacSam; JK Simmons, as explosives expert, Pancake; Tzi Ma, as the mysterious tunnel expert, The General, and Ryan Hurst, as muscle-man, Lump.

Yet, while the plan looks fool-proof - they pose as church music players and use the root cellar of an unsuspecting old lady (Irma P Hall) to tunnel their way through - it quickly becomes apparent that none of Dorr’s crew is fit for the task, while the ‘old lady upstairs’, in the form of the church-going Mrs Munson, proves a more formidable adversary than they could ever have imagined, once she realises their intentions.

Much of The Ladykillers’ appeal lies in the allure of its cast, who consistently rise to the challenge set by the Coens’ quirky script.

Hanks, for example, appears to be having an absolute blast as the mastermind behind the operation, a straight-laced professor, with a passion for quoting Edgar Allan Poe, who thinks he is a great deal more intelligent than he is.

But there are times when he appears to be over-milking the pudding and his performance threatens to undermine proceedings, particularly as it is wordy in the extreme. Audiences may find themselves either loving or hating his rogue.

That said, the enjoyment of watching a Coen brothers’ movie often lies in its offbeat characterisations, and throughout The Ladykillers, there are references to some of their feel-good successes of the past - most notably in the ineptitude of its protagonists, which evokes memories of the central trio in O’ Brother, Where Art Thou, and the unravelling of the ‘perfect crime’, as in Fargo.

The moronic stupidity of the ‘criminal masterminds’ in another film, Welcome to Collinwood, also comes to mind, particularly during some of the heist sequences.

But in Simmons, Wayans and Hall (who took the best actress prize at Cannes), the film has a number of memorable characters in their own right, and much of the fun lies in watching the way in which they rub each other up the wrong way, to the detriment of the final plan.

And while things start slowly, by the time the job takes place, and the decision is made to ‘off the old lady’, audiences should be revelling in the mix of slapstick and farce which makes The Ladykillers a welcome flip-side to the super-cool smartness of the likes of Ocean’s 11.

Also of note, is the mix of blues and gospel on the soundtrack, which, again, resembles the score for O’ Brother, and which seems designed to appeal to hard-core Coen enthusiasts.

The Ladykillers may not, ultimately, stand up to comparison with its renowned predecessor, and may represent the Coens at their most unashamedly mainstream, but it is still a hugely enjoyable affair, if you can forgive some of its wordy excesses.

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