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2004 Roundup
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"The Ladykillers"

Directed by Joel Coen and Ethan Coen.
Written by Joel Coen and Ethan Coen.  Based on the 1955 film.
Starring Tom Hanks, Irma P. Hall, Marlon Wayans and J.K. Simmons. 
Release Year:  2004 
Review Date:  4/13/04

Folks--

Maybe the Coen Brothers--like Steven Soderbergh during his rash of films in 2001 and 2002--need to take a break.

It's not that their update of the Peter Sellers comedy "The Ladykillers" is bad; in fact, at times, it mixes both broad comedy and that classic Coen Brothers eccentricity incredibly well.  A Southern professor, G.H. Dorr (Tom Hanks), has collected a band of four criminals to pull off a riverboat heist somewhere in Mississippi, including an animal trainer named Mr. Pancake (J.K. Simmons), a janitor (Marlon Wayans), a former General-turned-donut-shop owner (Tzi Ma) and a village idiot (Ryan Hurst) that was recruited by Dorr mostly to be the group's resident thug.  Posing as a string quintet, the misfits try to trick a old woman (Irma P. Hall) into letting them use her basement for their "practices"--really a front to use the basement to dig their way to the vault of the bank where the casino keeps its money on shore.

You almost forgot that Tom Hanks even does comedy any more; in "The Ladykillers", his character's tendency to guffaw at his own jokes and to eloquently describe the most mundane of activities is just hilarious.  Maybe even funnier is the running arguments between Pancake and the janitor; by the time they are at a local waffle place and the janitor is screaming

"Yo!  I can't believe you brought your BITCH to the muthafuckin' Waffle Hut!!"

I was howling in the theater.  Little touches in the script (by two older white guys, no less) featuring how society has gone ill since a little song called "I Left My Wallet in El Segundo" came out over fifteen years ago made me laugh, but not the older folks in my audience, since that A Tribe Called Quest classic is amongst the most harmless of verses and I would imagine they don't have a copy of that Tribe anthem.  The gospel sequences, with a band leader that looks like a Morris Day clone circa 1984, were rousing and as always, the cinematography by Coen Brothers regular Roger Deakins is spectacular.

However, as good as some of these things are, I just came out of the theater feeling so-so about "The Ladykillers."  The last ten minutes had a lot to do with that; the comedy of errors that takes place should have been funny, but instead, it cheapened the experience for me.  And, the film just does nothing out of the ordinary, something I have become accustomed to with Coen Brothers films prior to these last two films, which includes "Intolerable Cruelty."  As good as Hanks was, the film plodded at times; a sparse set of locations helped that, since we are relegated to the woman's house and her basement for most of the film.

I'm not really explaining it well, but maybe it's just a gut feeling, really:  "The Ladykillers" relies on the Hanks' performance so much that beyond that, I can't really recommend much about this update.  This might be a great rental, but if you love Coen Brothers flicks then I guess you'll have to see this in a theater!

Rating:  Matinee

 

Comments?  Drop me a line at justin@bellviewmovies.com.

 

Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too bad...man, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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The "fine print":
All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/bellviewmovies.com except where noted
1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09