US Release Date: 03-26-2004
Directed by: Ethan and Joel Coen
- Tom Hanks, as
- Professor G.H. Dorr
- Irma P. Hall, as
- Marva Munson
- Marlon Wayans, as
- Gawain MacSam
- J.K. Simmons, as
- Garth Pancake
- Tzi Ma, as
- The General
- Ryan Hurst, as
- Lump Hudson
- Diane Delano, as
- Mountain Girl
- George Wallace, as
- Sheriff Wyner
- John McConnell, as
- Deputy Sheriff
- Jason Weaver, as
- Weemack Funthes
- Stephen Root, as
- Fernand Gudge
- Lyne Odums, as
- Rosalie Funthes
- Walter K. Jordan, as
- George Anthony Bell, as
- Bruce Campbell as
- Humane Society Worker
Tom Hanks and Marlon Wayans in The Ladykillers.
The Ladykillers is a movie that never quite gels. All the elements are there and yet somehow it is only sporadically enjoyable. There are interesting characters, good actors, and the usual quirky visual style that the Coen brothers bring to their movies. Perhaps the problem is simply that this 'comedy' just isn't very funny.
The movie begins with Goldthwait Higginson Dorr III, Ph.D (a southern gentlemen who seems 50 years behind his times) renting a room from Marva Munson (Irma P. Hall). At first the god fearing widow is reluctant to rent to this rather strange man, but when he informs her that he leads a group of musicians who play music for the glory of god, she agrees.
Tom Hanks, as Professor Dorr, gets to put on an amusing southern accent and a whole host of oddball mannerisms, which he does to good effect. After Forrest Gump, he must have enjoyed doing a southern accent where he was able to spout long, literary, and intellectual speeches. The laughs his quirks elicit quickly fade however, particularly since the previews have given most of his oddness away already.
Professor Dorr's real reason for renting the room is so that he can use its conveniently located cellar to tunnel into the counting room of a local steamboat casino. Helping him in this endeavor is a motley collection of oddballs. Marlon Wayans plays the streetwise inside man, working as a janitor in the casino. J.K. Simmons is the explosives expert suffering from irritable bowel syndrome. Tzi Ma plays former Viet Cong tunnel expert, The General. And Ryan Hurst is Lump, the intellectually challenged muscle. All of the characters are unique, and I'm sure made interesting acting exercises for the actors, but simply being odd doesn't necessarily evoke laughs. Only Wayans, of the supporting actors, seems able to make his jokes work, particularly when he is arguing with Simmons' character. Although the cat, Pickles, also does fine work.
The one true standout in this movie is Irma P. Hall as Mrs. Munson. She goes toe-to-toe with Tom Hanks and steals nearly every scene. Her character is a bit of a stereotype, that of the southern, widowed, god fearing, elderly black woman, but Hall brings a freshness to the role that overcomes that. Most of the jokes that work in this movie are due to her, even if it's only her reaction to someone else.
The Coen Brothers are known for making movies with interesting, oddball characters. Normally though, they also provide a deeper, funnier story along with them. An interesting collection of character work, ultimately The Ladykillers is a disappointment.
Irma P. Hall and Tom Hanks in The Ladykillers.
I was not disappointed. Tom Hanks and Marlon Wayans are hysterical! Hank's exaggerated eloquence and Wayans' foul mouth are at two opposing ends of the linguistic spectrum. Yet each convey humor.
What does not quite gel, with me, is the fact that Hanks and Wayans have very little dialogue exchange. They share many scenes but they never verbally engage each other. They are the laughs in this movie yet they spend too much time talking to other characters. Their different dialects could have made for some very interesting exchanges. As it is, Wayans spends too much time arguing with Simmons about his Irritable Bowl Syndrome and Hanks spends all of his time talking to Hall.
The biggest mistake in this movie, though, is the ending. These characters are far too satirically suave to go out so foolishly. I would rather see a sequel with these guys trying to knock off another casino than the cast of Ocean's Eleven.
Marlon Wayans, Irma P. Hall, and Tom Hanks in The Ladykillers.
I might have had a different take on this movie if I hadn't already seen the original Ladykillers. That movie is so brilliantly comic, it would be very difficult for a remake to be as good. This one isn't, but it is still pretty funny. The Coen brothers wrote a deft script with their usual ear for dialect and dialogue. The cast led by Hanks is inspired, and the story remains amusing. The gospel flavored soundtrack adds to the atmosphere and helps ground the movie in the American South. But despite these many positives the 2004 Ladykillers has to offer, in the end it is still just another superfluous remake of a classic motion picture.
Irma P. Hall gets her finest onscreen hour as Marva Munson. Hall had been working in film and on television since the early 1970s, but it was after the age of 60 that she found her biggest success. You may remember her as Big Mama in the 1997 family classic Soul Food, or as the black magic priestess in Clint Eastwood's Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil that same year. Those were two juicy parts but this is her one great starring role and, as Scott wrote, she steals the movie away from her male costars; just as Katie Johnson had done in the original.
Hall gets some of the funniest lines, such as when she hears the character played by Marlon Wayans using the N word. She exclaims, “Two thousand years after Jesus, thirty years after Martin Luther King, the age of Montel; sweet Lord of mercy is that where we at?” She doesn't approve of rap music either and to support her position says, “Oprah don't like hippity-hop music either." I also cracked up at how the preacher explains the word “smite” to his congregation. “I smite, you smite, he smites, we done smote!”
Tom Hanks has fun burying himself in a character part. As Professor G.H. Dorr he makes florid speeches like when ordering breakfast for the entire group, “Madam, we must have waffles! We must all have waffles forthwith! We must all think, and we must all have waffles, and think each and every one of us to the very best of his ability...” Marlon Wayans' funniest scene also takes place at the diner. His reaction when Garth Pancake (Simmons) brings his girlfriend Mountain Girl (Delano) with him to breakfast is priceless. He keeps repeating more and more incredulously, “You brought your bitch to the Waffle Hut?!”
The Coen brothers stayed quite faithful to the original ending. In the 1955 version each of the would-be robbers' bodies is dumped, in turn, on a passing goods train. In the remake they fall onto a passing garbage barge. This ironic and entirely unsentimental denouement reveals the comic genius in the story. It's a comedy of tragic proportions (or a tragedy of comic proportions?). Even though I enjoyed this version I can't help but consider it completely unnecessary.
Photos © Copyright Touchstone Pictures (2004)