Killer me saucy.
A farcical heist movie, with quirky characters, sharp, dark storyline and dialogue so delicious you can feed your cat with it.
It’s not describing a suave Bond-type; the title of this movie is literal – but easier said than done. THE LADYKILLERS follows confidence man Professor G.H. Dorr (Tom Hanks in the sauciest, most enunciated performance of his career) who assembles a cadre of inept thieves to rob a casino via an underground tunnel dug from an old lady’s rooming house; when the old lady (Irma P. Hall) discovers the heinous activity, she must be disposed of – but which of the five miscreants has the minerals to off her?
Joel and Ethan Coen write and direct this modern day old-fashioned tale, setting the tone of the movie from its opening frames; an a cappella choir harmonizes a gospel dirge, while a garbage scow dolefully floats its refuse into a clotted bay; scene dissolving to a Sheriff’s office standing resolutely alone on a deserted and dusty small town street; within, the deputies snore at their desks…
THE LADYKILLERS is a remake of a 1955 movie of the same name, and though it is established through dialogue that Oprah and Montel are contemporary figures in this story, it might as well still be the 1950s.
His accolades stretch for miles, but here Hanks earns them, with a loquacious and sneaky-twitchy performance as the scheming Professor Goldthwait Higginson Dorr Ph.D., his every gesture a cheeky exercise in verbosity, deception and misdirection. When he inquires of the feisty old devout black landlady, Marva (Hall), about his “ensemble” hiring the root cellar to indulge in “music that has been composed to the greater glory of God,” his pointy beard veritably leaps off his chin in devilish mendacity.
His motley gang are: demolition man and Irritable Bowel Syndrome sufferer, Garth Pancake (J.K. Simmons); inside man and chunky-chaser, Gawain MacSam (Marlon Wayans); tunnel expert The General (Tzi Ma), whom we meet as he bare-handedly foils a robbery of his donut store against two gun-toting thugs; and the footballer brawn of the group, Lump Hudson (Ryan Hurst), “a hooligan, a goon, an ape, a physical brute.”
The farce is played with broad performances reminiscent of Marx Brothers and Laurel and Hardy vignettes. The Coens’ darkness filters through when the plan goes awry and an unplanned explosion causes Marva to discover the robbery, precipitating Prof. Dorr’s ignominious decision to kill the old lady.
Each of the gang attempts the task, while trying to double-cross each other and remain alive against each others’ double-crossing, the garbage scow unwittingly playing a major role in the comedic atrocities.
The story holds together very satisfyingly and – unlike some of their other films – the Coens find a humorous rhythm to the killing off of their sociopathic characters, rather than sudden shocking deaths that alienate their audience.
As far as feeding the cat, it has the last laugh with Garth Pancake’s dismembered finger, as the Coen Brothers (FARGO, THE BIG LEBOWSKI, O BROTHER, WHERE ART THOU?) do that voodoo that they do so well.
And after all the verbal gymnastics by Hanks, the funniest line is from Wayans, when Simmons holds in an attack of Irritable Bowel and explains to the gang, “IBS!” to which Wayans replies, “You be what?”