Movie Review: 'The Ladykillers'

by Rich Brooks

21 September 2004

"The Ladykillers" was first made in 1955 as a British film noir crime caper starring acting great Sir Alec Guinness. Guinness was the mastermind of a criminal gang posing as a group of musicians who had chosen to rent a room from a little old lady to carry out their scheme. Needless to say, the little old lady was not as naive as she appeared to be, and the crooks eventually met their demise one by one. This was a true classic of English comedy, and there has never been an attempt at a remake until now - perhaps because most filmmakers realized that any new rendition would inevitably suffer by comparison with the original.

But enter the Coen Brothers, Joel and Ethan, who have never been accused of lacking chutzpah. The scene is moved from England to Mississippi, and the gang of crooks is now multiracial, with Tom Hanks playing the professorial Guinness role. The little old lady is now a negro, of the very upright churchgoing type. She spends her days with church activities and her evenings sitting in her rocking chair beside the fireside knitting. Played by Irma P. Hall, this mammy character gets in quite a few good one-liners and it is she much more than Hanks who carries this film.

We first meet the widow Marva at the local sheriff's office, where she has gone to complain about some young niggers playing their loud rap music. She explains to the black sheriff that "that noise don't make me want go hippity hop." We next meet Hanks, who poses as a music professor wishing to rent a room in Marva's home. Hanks tells her that he has an ensemble of Renaissance musicians who would like to use her root cellar to practice. The real reason they want to use the cellar is to dig a tunnel about 100 feet to the counting office of a nearby riverboat casino. Hanks seems like he's becoming a male Meryl Streep lately, with all of the strange accents he has been using in his recent roles. His accent sounds vaguely Cajun here and his goatee and attire make him look something like a young Colonel Saunders. Unfortunately, I think he overacted the part and didn't think his lines were all that funny. Hanks, of course, had a hard road to toe following in Guinness's footsteps.

Actually funnier were the lines of Marlon Wayans, playing a filthy-mouthed nigger punk who was hired to be the inside man" at the casino. Especially funny was when the old lady slapped him with her purse a few times and read him to whaleshit for his fowl language. Ordinarily I don't like movies where niggers say motherfucker" every other word, but Wayans is funny in his intentionally obnoxious role here. The other gang members - a Vietnamese "general," a retarded White thug, and a middle-aged demolition expert - are not nearly so well-drawn.

Also this remake lacks the understated, film noir quality of the original. In spite of this, and in spite of the fact the jokes often fall flat, I still think this was a stylish and well-made film in its own right. The ending has an appropriate twist that will leave you smiling. No, not a great film or a must-see, but somewhat entertaining.


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