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The Ladykillers

Starring Tom Hanks, Marlon Wayans, Irma P. Hall, Ryan Hurst, Tzi Ma, Stephen Root, J.K. Simmons, George Wallace, Jason Weaver
Screenplay by Ethan Coen and Joel Coen
Based on the 1955 film written by William Rose
Directed by Joel Coen

IN SHORT: A brilliant cartoon-like comedy. [Rated R for language including sexual references. 105 minutes]

As always, no comparison is made to the Source Material, which starred Alec Guinness.

To the average outsider, there is little of interest in the sleepy town of Saucier, Mississippi. The town's sheriff (George Wallace) spends most of his time sleeping at his desk. Down at the docks on the banks of the Mighty Mississippi is the gambling river boat Bandit Queen, whose operation is guided by the less than genial Mr. Gudge (Stephen Root) and whose decks are mopped by a foul mouthed new employee called Gawain MacSam (Marlon Wayans). At the end of the dock is the blockhouse where Grudge counts the money and across the street is a stately old house, with a room to let. The widow Marva Munson (Irma P. Hall), sixty seven years on God's green earth, owns that house. Mrs. Munson, to be quite frank, hasn't been quite the same since her beloved husband Otar died twenty years back, after 46 blissful years of marriage. The Sheriff has never seen and has little reason to believe that there is a living, breathing boarder in the house.

Which is fine by Professor Goldthwait Higginson Dorr (Tom Hanks), who dresses in finery fit for any riverboat gambler of the 1850s and who has carefully laid out plans to rob the Bandit Queen of all of its sinful, gambling-gotten gain.

Each time brothers Ethan and Joel Coen release a new film we almost feel like Navin R. Johnson, (Steve Martin in Carl Reiner's The Jerk) jumping up and down yelling "The new phonebook's here! The new phonebook's here!" Even on an off day, the Coen Brothers provide film faire that is more than a cut above average. As spectacularly regional as Fargo and as funny as any classic Looney Toon, The Ladykillers is way up there, too, with jokes that range from slapstick physical gags to downright intellectual bits of dialog. You can't miss the cartoon comparison when you get a look at the perfessor and all the supporting characters, each of whom found their job through a classified ad in the local newspaper, are 2-D enough that they blend into a 3-D whole only when all are let loose on the screen at the same time. As individuals -- Lump Hudson (Ryan Hurst), General Win Phon Duc (Tzi Ma) and Garth Pancake (J.K. Simmons) -- are each is good for a gag, one at a time, with The General getting the best running bit. Garth's lady, Mountain Girl (Diane Delano) has enough of a sub-supporting role that she bears mentioning.

The plan involves a tunnel, dug from the Munson basement through the loose clay of the bank, and the cooperation of inside man MacSam, who works for the casino. Two things get in the way of the plan. First, MacSam doesn't exactly work and play well with others. Second, there's the ever-present landlord, with a prestigious girth and firm Christian values that won't stomach any dastardly doings. So comes the title of the movie, because someone is going to have to do something dastardly once the boss of the house stumbles to the scheme.

With any other actor in the title role, The Ladykillers would still be an enjoyable scam of a flick. With Tom Hanks in the title, everybody pays closer attention. All involved, whether in front of the camera or behind the scenes, kick their jobs up way more than the standard notch. Stock characters, all potential stereotypes, become "real" and the net result is a film that is worth the ticket price and all the popcorn you can jam down the gullet.

On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Ten Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to The Ladykillers, he would have paid . . .


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The Cranky Critic website is Copyright © 1995  -  2017  by Chuck Schwartz. Articles by Paul Fischer are Copyright © 1999 - 2006 Paul Fischer. All images, unless otherwise noted, are property of,©, ®, their respective studios and are used by permission. All Rights Reserved. Not to be used or copied for any commercial purpose. Academy Award(s) and Oscar®(s) are registered trademarks and service marks of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.