The Coen Brothers direct Tom Hanks, Irma P. Hall and J.K. Simmons in this comedy remake of the Ealing caper movie where an unlikely bunch of hoods have to kill the indomitable little old landlady they are using as a cover for their heist.
Raising Arizona and The Hudsucker Proxy aside, I don’t really rate Joel & Ethan’s broad comedies. I know they have their fans but for me they feel like shaggy dog wastes of their rare talents. Nobody makes movies like those Coens so to see them squander their technical perfection, sunny nihilism and syllable perfect way with words on fart gags and pratfalls is kinda galling. When they season their darkest thrillers or eccentric dramas with a bit of dumb comedy I’m fine with that, only they can seemingly get away with such daring shifts in tone. When, like with The Ladykillers, it feels like two geniuses goofing off at the back of the classs between bigger project I’d personally rather they took a year out rather than dilute the brand. One of the more universally unloved of their back catalogue, The Ladykillers isn’t actually without merit. It looks the part, has that delicious Coen-esque dynamic where pure good and true evil is defined and personified but we are stuck with blowhards and schmoos somewhere in the middle, and Tom Hanks delivers a game slice of hammy villainy. His scenes with a wonderful Irma P. Hall crackle, together they make the first half an hour sing. Then the crime plot kicks in and we halfheartedly watch the goons one by one get their just desserts. The heist and the deaths that follow feel roughly sketched. The zings and repartee get left behind. An hour in, all the pep has abandoned the project, then 90 minutes in we finally, at long last, start “ladykilling” in full knowledge the finishing line is already in sight. It all closes on a whimper, never once achieving a crescendo. Too well cast and visually well crafted to deserve its rotten reputation but not a patch on the original. It just deflates so early, as if The Coens too realised after the strong set-up, remaking an Ealing classic wasn’t probably the best use of their powers after all.
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