Joel and Ethan Coen make iconoclastic movies. Theirs is a strange world inhabited by Bikers from Hell, dumb kids who become executives, and erudite convicts on mythic journeys.
“The Ladykillers” is a remake of a classic British comedy about a group of thieves and an older woman—one of their landlords. That thief is Tom Hanks, stretched from his more current work, but snapping back to some of his earlier roles.
Hanks plays Goldthwait Higginson Dorr, a thief who dresses like a classics professor. Dorr leads a ragtag band of miscreant robbers who set out to steal funds from a riverboat casino. The riverboat is docked next door to Mrs. Marva Munson (Irma P. Hall), a devout Christian woman who is advancing in years, but not so old as to have lost her touch. Mrs. Munson believes in the King James Bible, church and Bob Jones University.
Dorr moves into a room in Mrs. Munson’s home. He asks to use her root cellar in order for his group to practice its music. All of this is, of course, a cover for the nefarious task of emptying the casino’s vault.
Gawain MacSam (Marlon Wayans) is the inside man at the casino. The others in the gang are munitions expert Garth Pancake (J. K. Simmons), tunneling master The General (Tzi Ma) and Lump (Ryan Hurst), who is muscle for the gang. But this group has major interpersonal problems, and Dorr tries to ride herd over the group just to insure they get the score.
Mrs. Munson is a wonderful character, straight out of the wise fool archetype. On the surface, she looks like nothing but a confused senior, but there’s more than meets the eye. Irma P. Hall plays Mrs. Munson with all the fire of a Pentecostal preacher. Mrs. Munson allows “no hippety-hop music, no smoking and no foul language.” She is a delight, while playing a near-stereotypical character.
“The Ladykillers” offers a new twist on an old theme. It has been said that you can be sure that your sins will find you out, and this is the sort of tale the Coen brothers give us here. The comedy grows out of a Coen brother formula: When somebody begins to commit a crime, a crime has to follow to cover that first crime. The story goes from crime to crime until there is an end.
“The Ladykillers” is not a classic Coen brothers movie, in the vein of “O Brother, Where Art Thou,” “Raising Arizona” and “Fargo.” The characters are too broad, and some members of the gang do not get fleshed out well. It will die in comparison to the original, but it is a serviceable story with a sense of morality.
Some may find the ending a bit of a joke, but it does say something about righteous living and how the righteous prevail.
The Coen brothers’ movies are like collards: better the second time. Their stories are so multi-layered that they required second viewings, which is one reason why this movie will do better in the home market.
Mike Parnell is pastor of Beth Car Baptist Church in Halifax, Va.
MPAA Rating: R for language, including sexual references.
Directors: Joel and Ethan Coen
Writers: Joel and Ethan Coen
Cast: Professor G.H. Dorr: Tom Hanks; Marva Munson: Irma P. Hall; Gawain MacSam: Marlon Wayans; Garth Pancake: J.K. Simmons; The General: Tzi Ma; Lump: Ryan Hurst; Mountain Girl: Diane Delano.
The movie’s official Web site is here.
Michael Parnell is pastor of Temple Baptist Church in Raleigh, North Carolina. He is married and has two boys. His love is for movies, and he can be found in a theater most Fridays.