DVD Review of The LadyKillers
Copyright © by Dan Schneider, 11/18/05
Despite his two Academy awards for the dreadful Philadelphia and Forrest Gump Tom Hanks has never, not once, ever sold me on his dramatic acting abilities. I remember him from that lame 1980s transvestite sitcom with the little blond dweeb who later starred on Newhart. Whenever he tries to emote Hanks just looks silly and cannot help but have a goofy grin on his face. As pallid as his dramatic ability is he is, and has always been, a gifted comedian.
This talent has never been put to better use than in the most recent comedy from the Coen Brothers, The LadyKillers, which is a remake of a 1950s comedy from the U.K. that starred Alec Guinness and Peter Sellers. Having never seen the original I can only say that even were that at the comedic level of Dr. Strangelove it would not alter the fact that this is one flat-out hilarious film. Basically, itís a comedic heist film in which a sad sack troupe of gangsters tries to rip off a floating casino in Mississippi by tunneling into its vault from an old black ladyís cellar. To accomplish this the ringleader, G.H. Dorr (Hanks), poses as a college professor. Along with him are a young black punk, Gawain MacSam (Marlon Wayans), a former Vietnamese general (Tzi Ma), a dopey munitions expert, Garth Pancake (J.K. Simmons- who plays J. Jonah Hameson in the Spider-Man franchise), and a big dumb lump of a football player named Lump Hudson (Ryan Hurst). The old lady, Marva Munson, is wonderfully played by Irma P. Hall.
Dorr dresses like Colonel Sanders, rents a room from Marva, and then asks if he can have his bandmates (his cohorts) come over to practice classical music in the cellar. Of course, all they do is play the music on a boom box as they dig. When Marva comes to the cellar they all have to scramble back into position, and pretend to be playing. The generalís interactions with Marva are particularly funny as he has to swallow and disgorge a lit cigaret so the old lady wonít know heís smoking in her home. He and Garth are the experts in munitions, Lump the muscle man, and Gawain the Ďinside maní. Of course, complications arise due to irritable bowels, a fiftysomething ĎMountain Girlí and Marvaís learning of their plot, and success.
She threatens to go to the police if they donít return the money and repent with her at church. The boys then draw straws to kill the old lady. Gawain gets the task, but cannot do it because she reminds him of his mama. He and Garth get into an argument and Gawain is accidentally killed. His body is then dumped off a nearby bridge and onto a garbage scow. One by one the task falls to another of the crew, and all end up dead and tossed off the bridge onto a seemingly endless procession of garbage scows. The last two crooks standing are Dorr and Lump, who refuses to kill the old lady, but accidentally shoots himself on the bridge, and falls onto yet another scow. then, Dorr is conked by a falling piece of concrete from the bridge ans likewise is headed out to the Happy Dumping Grounds.
Marva, meanwhile, does not know what to do with the money, so reports it to the sheriff, who doesnít believe her, and tells her she can keep the money. Marva is puzzled, then resolves to give it all to Bob Jones University, the notorious white supremacist college in the south. Yet, the film works, as over the top as it is. Itís in the grand tradition of both farces and screwball comedies like Itís A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World- save on a smaller scale. The comic timing is impeccable. This is the sort of film that got bad reviews, but will, in years to come, become a beloved favorite. It succeeds because of the quality of its comic actors and the ability of the Coens to reign things in when needed. In the hands of lesser directors, or with people not as well schooled in comedy the film would have been a disaster because the writing is merely so-so. But, itís all in the performance. This is the difference between creative arts like painting, writing, or sculpture, and collaborative arts like music, acting, or film. A work can succeed even if it is seriously flawed, as the script in this film is.
The film has numerous funny sequences- such as when Marva is talking to the portrait of her long dead husband, the casino is robbed, and an explosion is heard, and Gawain asks his buddy- the guard at the casino- if he farted, etc. But, most of the laughs work because a) theyíre just funny and splendidly accomplished, and b) they are not telegraphed- in that we can see them coming, nor that we can predict their outcome. Lump is a riot, who from his first football appearance is the most lovable knucklehead since, well, perhaps ever. Gawain is perfectly annoying as the hip hopster punk. The general says little, but everything in his glowers, and Garth Pancake, as played by Simmons, is simply the best thing in the film- from his straight-faced sciolism to his irritable bowels.
Yet, there is the pull of the Ďrelationshipí- if you want to call it that- between Dorr and Marva upon which the other characters turn, and its tone is set right away when Marvaís beloved cat Pickles gets out for the umpteenth time. The LadyKillers is not a film for the ages, but it is one that when a little blue you can just pop it in the DVD and laugh yourself silly. That said, the DVD had a nice transfer- very crisp and in some places the film even looked like videotape. I donít know whether it was shot digitally, however. The music plays well, especially in assorted gospel scenes. There are only a few extra- standard featurettes on the film, but one extended outtakes scene that is piss funny- a scene where Marva is slapping Gawain silly for his use of profanity. As with everything else on this DVD itís funny as hell, and most recommended.
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