The Ladykillers review by Mike Long

To say that the Coen Brothers are quirky filmmakers would be a grand understatement. This duo from Minnesota, Joel and Ethan, have been making movies for 20 years now and have done the seemingly impossible -- they've crossed over from being art-house heroes to recognizable hitmakers without losing any of their peculiar traits. Films such as Fargo and O Brothre, Where Art Thou? have garnered them international fame, while they continue to make small films like The Man Who Wasn't There. Their latest offering, a remake of the 1955 film The Ladykillers, may be the Coen's most mainstream offering to date...but that doesn't mean that it's not unusual.

As The Ladykillers opens, we meet Mrs. Marva Munson (Irma P. Hall), a very religious widower who spends her time donating money to Bob Jones University, pestering the sheriff (George Wallace) about trivial things, and living with her cat, Pickles. One day, Professor G.H. Dorr (Tom Hanks) arrives on Marva's doorstep, inquiring about her "room to let". Dorr explains that he is a scholar on sabbatical, who enjoys playing medieval music at renaissance fairs with his group of fellow musicians. Marva agrees to rent the room to Dorr and his request to use her root cellar to practice his music. We are soon introduced to the other members of Dorr's "band"; Gaiwan (Marlon Wayans), Garth Pancake (J.K. Simmons), The General (Tzi Ma), and Lump (Ryan Hurst). These "musicians" are actually criminals who plans to tunnel through the wall of the root cellar into a nearby vault which holds the money from a riverboat casino. Professor Dorr's plan is fool-proof, but he never counted on the nosy and unpredictable nature of Marva.

There is no doubt that the Coen's have made some odd movies over the years, and The Ladykillers may be their oddest yet, as it tries so hard to not be odd. The result is a film that has the sort of interesting characters that we would expect from a Coen Brother's film, but little of the spark or vitality. The hyperactive camera found in their earlier works like Raising Arizona and Blood Simple is nowhere to be found here, although the individual shots are framed very creatively. The characters each have their individual traits, but Marva and The General both feel like stereotypes. Some of the dialogue is clever and witty, but lines such as the one Marlon Wayans repeats three times in the diner scene (which someone clearly wanted to be the line you remembered when you got home) feel very forced. The film is billed as a comedy, but I only laughed out-loud once.

I have not seen the original version of The Ladykillers, so I can't say how closely this remake follows the story of that film, but the plot in this updated version does unfold in a nice manner. But, the biggest surprise in the film, is that there aren't many surprises. Joel and Ethan Coen (who are both credited with directing) keep the story moving along at a nice pace, but once you see where the third act is going, the ending is predictable. The script is well-written, especially in the way that it integrates nods to Edgar Allan Poe, a writer whom Dorr admires. The best elements of the film are the performances, most notably that of Hanks, who is playing a demented Southern gentleman. But, you'd better turn on the DVD's subtitles, as his mumbly Southern accent is hard to understand at times, especially given the SAT-level words that he's spewing. The other great turn comes from J.K. Simmons, who has truly mastered the art of delivering bizarre and complicated dialogue in a dead-pan manner. The Ladykillers isn't necessarily a bad movie, and had it come from a lesser-known group of filmmakers, it could be considered a minor success, but one expects more from the Coen's. To be honest, compared to some of their other films, The Ladykillers is simply boring.

The Ladykillers steals onto DVD courtesy of Touchstone Home Entertainment. The movie is coming to DVD in two separate editions, one full-frame and the other widescreen. For the purposes of this review, only the widescreen version was viewed. The transfer reveals a very solid image, which is quite sharp and clear, showing virtually no grain and zero defects from the source material. The image has a very nice depth-of-field and the colors look fine. There is some slight artifacting present in the darker scenes, but otherwise the image is stable. The DVD's Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track is deceptive, as Hanks' dialogue can sound very muffled at times, but I think it has more to do with his delivery -- once again, the subtitles are a blessing. The track is a fairly standard front and center channel job, although there are two explosions which rock the subwoofer and surround channels.

As with the film itself, the extras on The Ladykillers DVD are quite benign. "The Gospel of The Ladykillers" features two uncut performances by the Abbot Kinney Lighthouse Choir with Rose Stone and the Venice Four, who appear in the film at Marva's church. They perform "Shine on Me" (5 minutes) and "Trouble of the World" (3 minutes). The 11-minute segment "Danny Ferrington: The Man Behind the Band" offers a profile of Ferrington, an instrument-maker who made the medieval instruments for the film. "The Slap Reel" is a 90-second reel of Hall slapping Wayans over-and-over. So, we learn zero about the making of the film from these extras.

6 out of 10 Jackasses

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