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Eccentric professor-turned-criminal Goldthwait Higginson Dorr, PhD (Tom Hanks) finds a room to rent in the house of Black American widow Marve Munson ( Irma P. Hall), which is fortunately located on shore and adjacent to a New Orleans riverboat casino he plans to relieve of its cash. He poses to be the leader of a refined group of musicians (Marlon Wayans, J.K. Simmons, Tzi Ma, Ryan Hurst) who, while pretending to be rehearsing, begin tunnelling from Marve's cellar to the casino's underground safe. Keeping this a secret from their landlady is hard, but simple in comparison to completing the heist in secret. When Marve finds out, the gang has to decide how to silence her. And it's fatal.

Review by Louise Keller:
The storyline comes from the 1955 British comedy classic; the execution is pure Coen Brothers, with bawdy, irreverent black humour where crass is the replacement for understatement. The Ladykillers is a hybrid: a mix of shallow laughs with character-caricatures. Eccentric has been replaced by outright off-the-wall and obvious.

The Coen Brothers and everyone else seem to be having a great time. Just look at Tom Hanks as the mannered, goofy-toothed professor with the PhD ('Is that Fudd, as in Elmer Fudd?'); he looks as though he might lay an egg if he keeps up the act. His erudite, plum-voiced Professor G.H. Dorr is indeed larger-than-life, but in a vaudevillian way, and the members of the gang make me think of The Village People. It's hard to beat Alec Guinness' Professor Marcus in the original and Hanks is playing his version of Guinness. Admittedly there are few actors other than Guinness (who played Professor Marcus in the original, and the likes of Peter Sellers), whose ability to play a real character is both brilliant and convincing.

The best we can expect is to enjoy the performances for what they are; as part of a storyline, they are less than satisfying. Not surprisingly, this new version lacks the charm of the original, but on a superficial level there are some droll notions, including a dog in a gas mask, a digit-loving ginger-cat, a general who hides his burning cigarette in his mouth, and a crook called Pancake who met his girlfriend Mountain Girl on an Irritable Bowel Singles weekend. The rousing gospel music that forms the film's rhythmic backdrop is terrific, but the memorable musical ingredient of the original - Boccherini's minuet - is discarded as a bit of a throwaway.

'There are two kinds of folks; those that got da piles and those that will get da piles,' muses Irma P. Hall's Mrs Munson, a non-nonsense big mama who loves da gospel music, her cat Pickles and looks as though she has just dismounted from a horse. Mrs Munson is as far removed from Katie Hall's umbrella-losing, shrunken, frail little old lady as you can imagine, so that wonderful juxtaposition of the helpless elderly pitted against the crafty gang intent to pull off a caper, is not even attempted. Hall gives a rollicking, good-natured performance, and I laughed out loud when Mrs Munson spies the professor hiding under the bed (with his cup of tea), when trying to avoid the visiting sheriff. Watch too, for an Oscar-winning performance from the four-legged feline.

Of course, it is ludicrous to imagine that a film like The Ladykillers could be remade - even by the Coen Brothers - and towards the end found myself eagerly waiting for the body count to add up, so I could go home and revisit the original.

Published January 13, 2005

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(US, 2004)

CAST: Tom Hanks, Irma P. Hall, Marlon Wayans, J.K. Simmons, Tzi Ma, Ryan Hurst, Diane Delano, George Wallace

PRODUCER: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen, Tom Jacobson, Barry Josephson, Barry Sonnenfeld

DIRECTOR: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen

SCRIPT: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen (William Rose - original 1955 movie)


EDITOR: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen

MUSIC: Carter Burwell


RUNNING TIME: 104 minutes


SPECIAL FEATURES: The Gospel of the Ladykillers, The Slap Reel, Danny Ferrington: The Man Behind the Band.


DVD RELEASE: January 12, 2005

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