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There is a very funny movie called The Ladykillers where a gang of n'er-do-wells masquerade as musicians while planning a heist in a room rented from a kindly old lady. This film is one of the classic black comedies of all time. It is a must-see movie. Unfortunately, this movie is not the subject of this review because this version of The Ladykillers was made in 1955 and starred Alec Guinness and Peter Sellers. Usually, I wait until the end of the review to implore you to go down to your local Blockbuster and rent this fine movie rather than go to the theatre to see the new 2004 version of The Ladykillers. But in this case I can't wait. The new version of The Ladykillers is awful.
I won't go on and on about why a person would want to remake a classic like The Ladykillers. Everybody and his brother are remaking old movies all the time. So now even Ethan Coen and his brother are doing it. And, they signed even up Tom Hanks to play the Alec Guinness role. Ok, so far so good. I don't understand why they are doing it but they are the Coen brothers and Tom Hanks is, well, Tom Hanks. So it might be good. The plot has not changed at all. In fact, I had a feeling of deja vu when I first saw the trailer that I hadn't felt since I saw that trailer featuring Harrison Ford as a convicted murderer chasing a one-armed man. Anyway, the plot of new The Ladykillers has been updated so that London has become a small town in Mississippi. The landlady, Mrs. Wilberforce (aka Mrs. Lopsided), has become Mrs. Munson (Irma P. Hall), a god fearing, Baptist, African-American landlady. Instead of Alec Guinness, Peter Sellers, Herbert Lom and Danny Green, we have Tom Hanks, Marlon Wayans, Tzi Ma, J.K. Simmons and Ryan Hurst. Otherwise, things are very similar to the 1955 version, with the hapless criminals getting their just desserts and the hapless old lady ending up with the loot. Needless to say, Scotland Yard has been replaced by the local sheriff.
This isn't a very good movie for a lot of reasons. The main one is that it just isn't funny. This is partly due to the script but since it is so similar to the original, it should be funny. It is partly due to the cast, which, other than Tom Hanks who is wonderfully weird as the Professor, can't hold a candle to the original cast. Wayans is well known having appeared in such classics as Scary Movie and Scary Movie 2. He did show some acting ability in Requiem for a Dream but no acting ability is needed here. His part involves two things, saying many words which require that this movie have an "R" rating and looking shocked after he is hit by Mrs. Munson. Both things happen regularly in the movie and so I assume they are meant to be funny. They aren't. And neither is IBS which is the subject of the other running gag in The ladyKillers. The others in the cast will appear familiar. Simmons of the IBS was in Spider-Man but is probably best known for his role as Dr. Skoda in Law & Order. Ma was good in The Quiet American and Hurst was good in We Were Soldiers. But it all pales against the original movie.
The "R" rating is a joke. The ladyKillers could almost be a "G" movie if they weren't constantly running through the list of words that George Carlin can't say on TV. There is a very strange credit listed at the end of the movie to the Henson Company for making puppets. There are no puppets in The Ladykillers unless it's the bodies that are dropped regularly off a bridge onto garbage scows. You may remember that they fell onto moving trains in the original version. Once again, as in O Brother, Where Art Thou?, the Coen boys have put together a wonderful soundtrack, this time consisting of Gospel music. But the music is not well integrated into The Ladykillers. Long scenes are included of the gospel choir performing in Mrs. Munson's church. But these scenes seem like filler and while entertaining, they interrupt what little narrative flow there is in this movie. You've probably guessed by now that I didn't like The Ladykillers much. The Coen brothers make unusual films that are often good and sometimes great. They have made Raising Arizona, Miller's Crossing, Barton Fink, Fargo and most recently, Intolerable Cruelty. With the exception of Hanks, this isn't a typical Coen brother movie cast. Where are Clooney, Macy, Buscemi and Turturro? They would have made a great gang.