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The Coen Brothers remake the classic Ealing comedy,
This review is from: The Ladykillers [VHS] (VHS Tape)That the Coen brothers would want to remake any movie, let alone the classic 1955 British comedy "The Ladykillers," is surprising enough. After all, when you think of "Raising Arizona," "Fargo," and "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" you think about their flair for being original, so why would they indulge in a remake? The answer might be that they got Tom Hanks with his pair of Oscars to step into the Alec Guinness role. Guiness had the likes of Peter Sellers and Herbert Lom as his partners in crime while Hanks has to make due with Marlon Wayans and J.K. Simmons, which is as good of a way to capture the differences between now and then as anything.
Hanks plays Goldthwait Higginson Dorr, supposedly a professor of Latin and Greek, who dresses like Colonel Sanders and talks like a cultured silver-tongued devil. The plot is similar to the original in that Dorr rents a room from a little old lady so that he and his partners can pretend to be holding music practice in the root cellar as a cover for tunneling their way to riches, which this time are to be found in the cash room of a river boat casino (fortunately the cash room is on dry land and not on the boat). Dorr's partners in crime consist of Gawain MacSam (Wayans), a foul-mouthed hip-hop janitor who cleans the casino, Garth Pancake (Simmons), an explosives expert whose plans are always just a bit off; the General (Tzi Ma), apparently an expert tunneler who honed his skills in "French Indo-China"; and Lump (Ryan Hurst), a big, strong football player who has taken way too many blows to the head.
But these guys do not stand a chance against Marva Munson (Irma P. Hall), the little old widow lady whose home is the base of operations for the gang and who has no compunction about slapping Gawain on the side of his head (her minister already explained from the pulpit that sometimes there is nothing else to do). Marva goes to church regularly, still has conversations with the portrait of her dearly departed husband, and shows up regularly at the local police station to complain about her cat begin up a tree and other problems. The gang has to get the money despite the idiosyncratic problems of each of its members, but then they have to get the money past the old lady, and that is just not going to happen (even though for some reason that passeth understanding Marva thinks that Bob Jones University is an appropriate place for a black woman to send a donation every month).
Ultimately what we have with this 2004 film is the story from the original Ealing comedy dressed up with the wacky characters we have come to expect from the Coen brothers, which is not a bad example of cinematic cross-breeding. The nonsense of the proceedings is entertaining enough in its odd little way for anyone willing to accept that a remake that is not going to be able to surpass the original (some people cannot get past the idea of a treasured film being remade, and often they are right in their thinking). Marva and Dorr are never boring and Hanks certainly lays on the eccentric affectations in his flowery speeches. Hanks proves how good he is in this role when the situation forces him to declaim a poem by Poe, which he does quite charmingly. I might refrain from hitting anybody on the side of the head after watching this movie, but I must confess to a sudden and intense desire to have waffles. Forthwith.