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The Coens just don't get the joke
on 2 August 2006
Sometimes it only takes a single mistake to destroy a movie. The joke in The Ladykillers is a very simple one: namely, that a sweet tiny little old lady who lives in a world of her own and who wouldn't hurt a fly not only thwarts a gang of criminals who want to kill her and ends up with their ill-gotten gains but does it without even knowing it. Unfortunately, the Coens just didn't seem to get it and make one disastrous change in their remake: Mrs Lopsidey is now a huge, loud, obnoxious, hateful and extremely violent woman who you want dead on sight. Not only do the crooks never stand a chance, but within seconds of her first scene you have no desire to watch a minute more. When she waxes lyrical about her dead husband in a failed attempt to create some sympathy for her, Groucho's old line "He's not dead, he's hiding" springs all too readily to mind.
Things improve slightly when Tom Hanks' loquacious decayed Southern gentleman appears, but he's fighting a losing battle with her spite and vindictiveness. They then compound the error by casting Marlon Wayans, whose ability to spout obscenities is almost miraculously untouched by the ability to make any of them remotely funny. Thus the stage is set for the Coens' worst movie, and one that alternates too few genuinely funny scenes - most involving J.K. Simmons and Tic Ma's early scenes before the script run out of good ideas for them - with moments of pure torture (the less said about Ryan Hurst's painfully misfired performance as the dumb lummox of the gang the better). By the time the miscreants finally put their minds to lady killing, the Coens have long since run out of ammunition, making for a flat, unfunny and painfully unimaginative last half-hour.