The Ladykillers (9/10)

Copyright © 2004 by Tony Medley

Marva Munson (Irma P. Hall) is a nice God-fearing, church-going African American widow (although she would call herself black) with a strict sense of what’s right and wrong, living by herself in Mississippi near a riverboat gambling casino. Professor G.H. Dorr (Tom Hanks), a genteel, well-spoken, charlatan professor, rents a room from her to take advantage of her cellar from whence he wants to tunnel into the room where the casino stores its money. To accomplish this, he advertises in the local newspaper and puts together as motley a team of losers as you’ll ever meet in the movies, Gawain MacSam (Marlon Wayans), Garth Pancake (J.K. Simmons), The General (Tzi Ma, who is a dead ringer for former South Vietnamese Premier, General Nguyen Cao Ky with an Adolph Hitler moustache), and Lump (Ryan Hurst).

Dorr represents to Marva they are a band playing religious music that needs to practice in her cellar. After being rented the room, Dorr devises ways to get her out of the house at appropriate moments. But Marva proves that she’s anything but a hoodwinkable little old lady.

The result is a delightful, funny caper film that should delight everyone except children, as Gawain uses the “f” word abundantly. However I had no objection to it because it was consistent with his character. Wayans, in fact, laughed, “I’ve never cursed this much. My God, I feel like Richard Pryor!” Gawain’s tempestuous relationship with Pancake causes some of the funniest moments in the film.

This is one of the best cast films I’ve seen in a long time. Although Hanks is the glue of his crazy crew, he is as funny as any of them. Each crewmember is set up by flashbacks to each doing something insanely stupid. The script by writer-directors Joel and Ethan Coen (reworking the original 1955 The Ladykillers with Alec Guinness), holds together for the entire 104 minutes, a worthy successor to their 1996 Oscar-winning classic, Fargo.  

This is the kind of a film that the more one writes, the more chance there is that what is revealed will rob the reader of the enjoyment of watching it unencumbered by prior knowledge. 

March 22, 2004