The Ladykillers

Dirs: Ethan and Joel Coen
2004
“That’s a bomb,” my dad said, when I was over visiting
and the ad for “The Ladykillers” came on the TV. He didn’t know I had just come from the cinema having seen it. “That’s what the critics say,” he say. “They say it’s terrible.” “Well, I thought it was allright,” I tossed in, but the damage was done. I’m told that this is a bad film.
Now, I suppose that, compared to the original Ealing comedy, this is pretty shallow stuff. The film just goes for the jokes and doesn’t bother with characters, and is fair ammunition for those who think the Coen Brothers are exquisite stylists with hearts of cold. Look at the film that way, and it’s a bomb, I suppose.
But the Coens have given us rounded characters before, so I believe they know what they’re doing. This is Ealing rethought as a screwball comedy, pure satire. I laughed through most of it. It was refreshing to see Tom Hanks playing a comic role for once–I thought he was going to sink into stodgy characters like the FBI agent in “Catch Me If You Can” (to which I remarked to my wife next to me, “What, didn’t Dan Ackroyd have time to play this?”). Stuck with goofy teeth and coming on like a over-educated Colonel Sanders, his character makes no realistic sense. And neither do his ragtag group of criminals who are helping dig a tunnel from the basement of his lodging house into the casino’s vault. I found “The General” (Tzi Ma) a funny character throughout, a militaristic Vietnamese gentleman with a Hitler moustache and a perpetual half-smoked cigarette in his mouth. Likewise the accident-prone explosives expert (J.K. Simmons) with a case of irritable bowel syndrome. Marlon Wayans does the typical loudmouthed homey, but I laughed at that too. What can I say? However, you do get the itchy sensation that the Coens consider everybody in this film to be a fool, except perhaps the cat.
My main complaint is that the movie is too long in its set-up, execution, and resolution. But will I be renting it for a family get-together, so I can hear my mom pee her pants laughing? You bet your sweet bippy.

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