Tom Hanks's extraordinary success with the audiences over the past two decades and accumulated goodwill could help the anaemic The Ladykillers to be a success.
Intermittently amusing and filled with a rousing soundtrack, like Intolerable Cruelty -- the previous mainstream film by Coen Brothers -- shows the transition from quirky and compellingly interesting films such as Fargo and The Big Lebowski to broader and more expensive films is not easy.
You might be disappointed with The Ladykillers, even without having seen the charming and gloriously entertaining 1955 classic Ladykillers, starring Alec Guinness and Peter Sellers. There are several reasons why the new movie doesn't reach its full potential: the dialogue, especially the long-winded lines Hanks uses, do not soar. The band of rogues that accompany Hanks on a heist do not have enough sharp and eccentric characteristics.
The movie arrives surrounded by quite a bit of negative publicity. Even as Hanks was travelling wide to promote the film, a few nasty whispers went around last week. Some newspapers speculated why he was publicising the film so much.
'He must be worried,' wrote Sam Allis in The Boston Globe 'because the presence of a star of his magnitude flacking a film outside Los Angeles or the island of Manhattan is as common as hail in Hawaii.'
The negative buzz does not necessarily mean that the film won't be a success. Hanks could make his charm work once again. Also, Coen brothers who have a far bigger following abroad (Cruelty grossed $40 million in America and nearly $100 million abroad), could see some profit flowing in after the video and DVD sales are factored.
As in the first film, here too a professor with doubtful credentials rents a room from a seemingly unsuspecting and genial old lady.
Soon we know that Professor Dorr (Hanks) and his buddies, all claiming to be musicians, want to use the house as a base of operations to plan a big heist. But the old lady whose curiosity and suspicion is gradually roused becomes a major threat to their scheme.
The location is moved from the British suburbs to Louisiana and the old lady (Irma P Hall) now is a churchgoing Baptist who abhors pop music. So the gang tries to play much older music while digging a tunnel from the basement to riverboat gambling casino.
Dorr's team is made up of Gawain MacSam (Marlon Wayans) as the casino's 'inside' man whose temper and foul mouth shakes up Mrs Munson; Garth Pancake, a hapless explosives expert (J K Simmons); The General (Tzi Ma), a former South Vietnamese army official who hardly speaks but is reportedly good at logistics and a football player called Lump (Ryan Hurst), who is expected to be the muscle in the endeavour.
The few surprises the film offers come nearly an hour after it starts, and the old lady has discovered the true nature of the crime. The scene in which Dorr tries to buy her silence is one of the more intriguing and funnier segments in the film. A major drawback of the script: the directors take a long time to bring the band of criminals into focus.
Taken individually, each of the robbers has something interesting to offer, by way of speech and manners, but as a group they do not sparkle enough.
Some viewers may find the gang and Hanks delivering over-the-top performances. Surely the veteran cast knew what they were up to. Whether the audiences will go along with their highly theatrical flourish remains to be seen. Some may enjoy Hanks' drooling and meandering speech pattern; others may run out of patience, accusing him of giving an affected performance.
Far more natural, effective and endearing is Irma Hall who plays a simple (but far from simplistic), soul with a moral focus. Without making her part cloying she subtly brings out the innate shrewdness. Hall comes up with one of the more interesting performances by a character actor in recent months.
Working with some of the finest technicians in Hollywood including cinematographer Roger Deakins, who has collaborated with them before, Coen brothers create an intriguing mini universe. The shots of a bridge that has an important role in the film, and the underground scenes lend the film a distinct look. And the music is even more rousing than the score in O Brother, Where Art Thou -- a slight but gorgeously entertaining film by the filmmaker duo.
Script and direction by: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen; Based on The Ladykillers by William Rose
Cast: Tom Hanks, Irma P Hall, Marlon Wayans, J K Simmons, Tzi Ma and Ryan Hurst
Rating: R for mild violence, profanity
Running time: 1 hour 45 minutes
Distributor: Buena Vista International