2004Director: Joel and Ethan Coen
Cast: Tom Hanks, Irma P. Hall, Marlon Wayans
ach and every year I wait with looming dread for the arrival of the next Tom Hanks movie. I hate the smug way in which he begs the Academy for a nomination, looking out at the audience with puppy dog eyes imploring us to note how different and more outrageous this role is to his last one. He has no subtlety, no restraint.
Unlike Alec Guinness’s role in the original The Ladykillers, which was marked by his sinister subtlety, Hanks handles the lead role in this Coen Bros. remake like a live action cartoon character. I simply cannot accept this man’s criminal intentions or his sinister inclinations. Even his name, Goldthwait Higginson Dorr, is a gaudy and ostentatiously unfunny creation.
But beyond my personal disdain for Hanks (which may only be partially justified) The Ladykillers begins with a lot of potential. It bides its time, establishing thoroughly the character of Marva Munson (Irma P. Hall) whose house Goldthwait will later use as his base of operation for robbing a riverboat casino. Even when Goldthwait first appears on Marva’s doorstep the movie’s grace is only slightly hindered.
However, believe it or not, Hank’s character is not the malignant cancer of this film. That role is left to the supporting cast which only appears to exist as a way of reassuring us that Hanks is in fact the most talented of the bunch. Never have I seen a movie turn into a train wreck as quickly as this one. Each character represents a more extreme level of annoyance.
Marlon Wayans, who was perfect in Requiem for a Dream is misused here. Ryan Hurst, who plays Lump, the brainless brute of the group, should’ve have taken some pointers from Hanks, who once proved that a dim-witted character can at least be charming or likeable. J.K. Simmons’ role as Garth Pancake embodies the most deplorable aspect of the film, in which the Coens seek to test the limits of an audience’s patience with a character so unpleasant that he transcends belief and passes into a sort of cinematic oblivion. That Tzi Ma’s character is somehow less abrasive than the others results from the way the film treats him with a certain level of invisibility. Together, the group forms the most ill-conceived and reprehensible gang of thieves to ever appear on film. Their lack of plausibility is only surpassed by their intolerable absence of wit and humor.
The plot follows the original rather closely. A gang of thieves use an elderly woman’s house in order to plan a robbery. When the elderly woman discovers their plans and demands they give back the money, they decide to off her. Of course, none of them is callous enough to carry out such an act and they end up turning on each other.
But since the robbery itself doesn’t occur until the last twenty minutes of the film, the whole middle section drags on forever, establishing God only knows what. It seems like it wants to set up the characters more before it begins knocking them off, but since what we’re ultimately given are caricatures anyway, the whole setup could’ve been eliminated without any repercussions whatsoever.
When the robbery finally does occur, it’s a tremendous letdown. In the original, the robbery itself was rather clever and slyly involved the elderly woman as an unknowing participant in it. Here the robbery is about as clever as the film: they simply tunnel through her basement wall, not unlike the way the film tunnels through our fertile imaginations, leaving them empty and hollowed out.
Based on the way the film descends into banality I can only assume that the Coens consciously contributed to its own demise. What other explanation could I offer? Even their more disappointing films demonstrated comedic intelligence. Here they include contrived gags about Irritable Bowel Syndrome, dialogue littered with gratuitous expletives (even more so than in The Big Lebowski), and confusing jokes concerning Hip-Hop, all of which produces a film that could just have easily been handled by Adam Sandler. This is the Coens appealing to the lowest common denominator.
The one redeeming aspect of the film is its beautiful cinematography. The shots of the river where the gang deposits the bodies are breathtakingly beautiful. But even the most mundane of locations burst with intensity and vibrant color. I found myself admiring the setting and ignoring the characters. The final scene, set on the bridge during sunrise, is a particularly stunning shot. But it seems rather futile within the context of this particular film. Think of it this way: if you peel back a shiny wrapper only to find shit concealed beneath, what worth does that wrapper ultimately have?