Welcome to the second edition of DVR reviews. Twice a week I review a film that was overlooked, underrated, or just a film you might only catch on cable on a boring Saturday afternoon. Last review I explored the action comedy thriller Kick-Ass 2. This time I dive into the underrated, but very clever 2004 black comedy The Ladykillers.
The Ladykillers is a product of the brilliant Cohen brothers (Joel and Ethan), but unlike most of their films this one was absent of critical acclaim. Reception was mixed with the film receiving a 56 out of 100 on Metacritic and a 55% on Rotten Tomatoes. The film itself is a remake or "reimagining" of a 1955 British comedy of the same name. A review of the film by Christopher Orr of The Atlantic from 2004 sums up why the reaction to The Ladykillers might have been mixed at the time of its release. Throughout the review, Orr constantly compares the movie to the original (which I myself have not seen) and fails to look at the film itself. He also compares it to other Cohen films and does basically the thing that makes all of society hate film critics. Orr fails to enjoy the film for what it is and gives it expectations that are too high.
I myself recorded this film on my DVR, looking forward to adding to my Cohen brothers' viewing repertoire having become a fan of the duo after viewing comedic brilliance in their films Fargo, The Big Lebowski, and Burn After Reading (I NEED to see No Country for Old Men and their other films). For those looking for the usual mix of unconventional characters, non-stop profanity, witty dialogue, and black comedy that the Cohens usually produce, you will not be amazed but you will be impressed. The cast is stellar with the legendary Tom Hanks starring in the main role as an eccentric professor by the name of Goldthwaite Higginson Dorr. Hanks is hilarious and nearly perfect as the charming mastermind of a plan to rob a casino. Hanks moves into a room for rent in a house owned by an elderly African-American, God-fearing woman (Irma P. Hall), planning to dig an underground tunnel leading to the casino in her cellar. Dorr and his group of criminals pose as a Renaissance music ensemble to fool the old lady. Dorr's crew is an interesting bunch who deliver as a solid ensemble cast. There's Gawain MacSam (Marlon Wayans, White Chicks, Requiem for a Dream), a foul-mouthed janitor who operates as the inside man. Garth Pancake (played by the brilliant J.K. Simmons), the demolitions expert who has "irritable bowel syndrome." "The General" (Tzi Ma, you'll recognize him from some other movie/TV show but won't be able to put a foot on it), the cigarette-smoking, seldom spoken Asian man. And lastly Ryan Hurst (Opie on Sons of Anarchy, Gerry in Remember the Titans) plays "Lump," a dim-witted former football player who serves as the muscle of the group. Each cast member brings their own special talents to the table and the chemistry among the cast is very evident.
The tone of this film is certainly very quirky and Cohen-esque from the opening titles. Gospel music plays as we get a layout of a small Southern town and we are introduced to Marva Munson, the old lady, as she walks into the sheriff's office, complaining about hip-hop music (as a Tribe Called Quest fan I appreciated the reference to their classic hit "I Left My Wallet in El Segundo"). After we are introduced to Hanks' character, we are gradually introduced to the rest of the criminals in Dorr's crew in a series of unrelated but brilliantly put together sequences. Roger Deakins' cinematography really shines throughout the movie, particularly in a first person point of view scene showing "Lump's" interactions in a football game (one of my favorite scenes of the movie). Once the gang of criminals and their quirky personalities are revealed, the real fun starts. Reminiscent of the "simple plan gets unnecessarily complex as things go terribly wrong" plots of The Big Lebowski and Burn After Reading, things are never easy for Dorr and his gang as they attempt to pull off the heist flawlessly while keeping the old lady unsuspecting of their plan. Along the way they face many hilarious obstacles including MacSam's vulgarity jeopardizing his job in the casino, "The General's" unorthodox way of concealing his cigarettes from the old lady (who forbids smoking in her house), and an argument ensuing over the phrase: "you brought your bitch to the Waffle Hut?" Every little scene is done with charming wit and engaging dialogue that definitely gives off the feel of a Cohen brothers' film.
The black comedy of the film particularly stood out to me and reminded me of Fargo and Burn After Reading (If you can't tell already I'm a huge fan of black comedy). The gospel music of the soundtrack complements the scenes in which it's featured perfectly, providing an ironic contrast between the good Christian lifestyle of Marva Munson and the criminal lifestyle of Dorr and his associates. Munson serves as the moral compass of the film, upholding a morally sound, self-righteous mindset and showing hostility to anyone who fails to respect her lifestyle or meet her standards (she hits MacSam for swearing in her house and tries to force her beliefs on Dorr). Ironically enough she is also somewhat the antagonist as she is the only one in the way of Dorr's plan. You admire Dorr and the way he carries out his plan in an alternative Ocean's Eleven type way, you feel that things will go horribly wrong but you can't help but root for the criminals.
Overall, The Ladykillers is not great by Cohen standards, but it is much better than the average heist comedy you'll catch on Comedy Central on a Sunday afternoon (Tower Heist and First Sunday come to mind). Anyone in search of an intelligent comedy or any fan of the Cohens should check out this film.