Ladykillers, The (2004)

Reviewed By Chris Parry
Posted 06/09/04 20:51:20

"Big Momma's House: Coens Style"
3 stars (Average)

I'm not sure what's going on with the Coens. They used to be a filmmaking term in their own right, a term that could have been defined as 'quirky genius'. But lately the Coens have gone from flop to flop, steadily moving away from the brilliance of Raising Arizona, Fargo, The Big Lebowski and O Brother Where Art Thou, and instead turning in some truly pedestrian efforts. Intolerable Cruelty had its moments, sure, but in The Ladykillers those high spots all but disappear as a flailing script, a weak concept and one-note humor become the order of the day.

Tom Hanks is Professor Goldthwait Higginson Dorr, and he's looking for a room. In actuality he's looking for a very specific room - one with a nice big cellar, which would be close to the local riverboat casino, and is owned by an aging landlady who won't notice that there is a crew of thieves digging a tunnel downstairs. Thankfully, there's a nice old biddy living in just the right spot and she seems ripe to be taken advantage of by Dorr and his crew... Or is she?

"Madam, We must have waffles! We must all have waffles forthwith! We must think and we must all have waffles, and think, each and everyone of us, to the best of his ability. "

Dorr is a weird one, but that should be no surprise to Coens fans. It's simply not a Coens movie if the lead character isn't an odd slice of regional Americana. In Fargo there was Bill Macy being Mr Dakota. In The Big Lebowski there was Jeff Bridges being Mr LA. In O Brother it was George Clooney being Mr Ragtime. The Ladykillers offers up Dorr as an odd Southern Colonel type; a little too verbose for his own good, entirely sneaky and ultimately far lazier than his plans demand. And to his credit, Hanks plays this character to the letter, the same way Clooney did in O Brother, but unlike the earlier film, this one doesn't give the principal character a world to properly inhabit. It's as if a time portal has opened up and taken a Kentucky gent from 1922 and dropped him in West Virginia in 2004. This is never explained, and it never sits well when every other character in the piece is a very modern man. And let's not be fooled that those modern men fit this world too well themselves.

"You brought your bitch to the Waffle Hut?"

First there's The General (Tzi Ma), a karmic former Viet Cong tunneling expert, then there's Garth Pancake (J. K. Simmons), a bizarre uber-male explosives expert whose best years are long behind him, and finally we have Gawain MacSam (Marlon Wayans), the trash-talking hip hop throwaway of the group. Oh yeah, there's also a big dumb slow moving ex-football player - the muscle.

So they conspire to tunnel to the casino's cash room, all the while pretending to be a post-renaissance music ensemble, as the landlady (Irma P. Hall) keeps them distracted with long-winded speeches about God and Bob Jones University. And... that's about it.

Once you get the quirky characters out of the way, there's nothing more to The Ladykillers than a goofball heist plot, which was done better in the original 50's version of the story than it is here. Brief moments of Cones genius do pop up from time to time, but on the whole this feels like a bit of a cash-in; a calendar filler that never really seemed designed to be anything more than fluff.

"Float like leaf on river of life... and kill old lady."

Still, it's better fluff than most, and worth the ticket price just to see Hanks turn himself into a cartoon character for a change. Just don't expect too much, for too much will be very much not what you shall receive.

© Copyright HBS Entertainment, Inc.