Any remake of a comedy classic starring the likes of Alec
Guinness and Peter Sellers would be a hard sell. It’s
impossible to top, just on the basis of names — but
don’t tell that to the Coen brothers. Their remake of the
1955 gem “The Ladykillers” is as darkly comedic and fun
as they’ve been in years, and thanks to the oddball,
powerhouse performance of Tom Hanks, the cult directors have
returned to form.

Set in Mississippi, this heist caper combines the humor of
“Fargo” with the eccentric characters of “O
Brother, Where Art Thou?” While it has a surface appearance
akin to “Ocean’s Eleven,” it’s really a
character study of the quirkiest sort with some of the finest
performances yet this year. Like Steven Soderbergh’s remake,
the actors appear to be having the time of their lives, and their
joy in rendering their craft makes the film supremely
entertaining.

Tom Hanks stars as Prof. G.H. Dorr, the mastermind behind the
criminal enterprise. To begin his ingenious plot of robbing a
riverboat casino, he moves into the home of the upright old widow
Marva Munson (Irma P. Hall), a woman who loves the church and hates
the hippity-hop. After winning her over and assembling his crack
team, the plan begins to unfold under the guise of a classical
ensemble practice in Marva’s basement. But when issues over
the booty boil and Ms. Munson discovers the plot, a new scheme
hatches to make a clean break with the cash.

The team is comprised of some of the Coen brothers’ most
colorful characters, the only fault arising in their over-the-top
caricatures. Marlon Wayans is hilarious in the role of Gawain
MacSam, the inside man. His quips and constant feuding with J.K.
Simmons’s character, Pancake, provide the laugh-out-loud
moments. Simmons himself is wonderful, a demolition man with
irritable bowel syndrome, and Irma Hall fits perfectly into the
Coens’ style.

Of course, there would be no film without Hanks. In his return
to the comedy days of old, his performance is as good as ever in a
role unlike any he’s ever played. Finely balancing the
hyperbolic tone with the evil cunningness of Dorr, Hanks again
proves that he deserves recognition as one of the greatest actors
of all time.

For Joel and Ethan Coen, “The Ladykillers” proves
what “Intolerable Cruelty” couldn’t: They can
make a mainstream Hollywood movie with all the style and signature
touches that have made the rest of their catalogue so great. They
have the menacing foil figure in the portrait of Marva’s dead
husband, the snappy dialogue with a penchant for silver-tongued
pontification and the graceful camerawork of cinematographer Roger
Deakins. Additionally, the music comes from T-Bone Burnett and
Carter Burwell, the masterminds behind the award-winning “O
Brother” soundtrack.

Though it might not be the Coens at their absolute best, it
shows just how good they are even when not quite there. “The
Ladykillers” relies completely on the interplay of its
characters, and the experience is as much fun as the Coens must
have had creating it.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars.

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