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?
THE LADYKILLERS is a remake of the 1955 movie of the same name (starring Alec Guinness), and though it is established through dialogue that Oprah and Montel Williams are contemporary figures in this story, it might as well still be the 1950s. Joel and Ethan Coen write and direct this modern day old-fashioned tale, actually improving on the original in story, tone, characters, humor and directorial finesse.
The tone is set in the opening scenes: an a cappella choir harmonizes a gospel dirge, while a garbage scow dolefully floats its refuse into a clotted bay; dissolve to a Sheriff’s office standing resolutely alone on a deserted and dusty small town street; within, the deputies snore at their desks… Old Marva Munson (Hall) appears, ranting about some neighbor’s boy she wants arrested; the deputies have heard it all before and pay her no mind. Many might fall for Hall’s larger-than-life performance as the movie-stealer, but she’s a reg’lar ole cantankerous black lady trope – no, the best part of this movie is undoubtedly…
Tom Hanks, whose sneaky-twitchy performance as the scheming Professor Goldthwait Higginson Dorr Ph.D is so deliciously eeevil, so mysteriously Southern, so unhinged loquacious that it is something quite against his usual grain. Even Alec Guinness in the original – who had all the prosthetics and overacting to turn his character into something unique – opted to remain quite staid and simply slapstick. Though Hanks’s accolades stretch for miles, here he earns them, his every gesture a cheeky exercise in verbosity, deception and misdirection. When he inquires of the feisty, devout Marva 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.
The Gang consists of: J.K. Simmons as Garth Pancake (explosives), Tzi Ma as The General (tunnel king), Ryan Hurst as Lump (muscle), and Marlon Wayans as Gawain (inside man). 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?”