Get Carter, The Italian Job and now The Ladykillers: no Brit classic is safe from hollow old Hollywood. And guess what? The Coen brothers' remake isn't a patch on the original. But then you knew that before they even started filming the damn thing, right?
Still, the Brothers Grim at least had the good sense to make the 1955 Ealing classic their own, transposing the action to the banks of the Mississippi and infusing every frame with that unmistakable Coen flavour. Every character, too, Joel and Ethan again favouring comic caricatures over flesh and blood, again inviting criticisms about their celluloid being crisp but cold.
Just look at the ragtag rogues: Professor Goldthwait Higginson Dorr (Hanks) is a cartoon academic, his braying, wheezy laugh exploding round buck teeth framed by goatee beard; ker-azee Vietnamese tunnel expert The General (Tzi Ma) barks out broken English, cigarette permanently dangling from lip; jovial Garth Pancake (JK Simmons) is the hilariously inept explosives expert; foul-mouthed, jive-talkin' Gawain (Marlon Wayans) gets Inside Man duties; and slack-jawed Lump (Ryan Hurst), as the name suggests, weighs in with the muscle. Factor in Irma P Hall's clean-living, hrrmphing, gospel-singing Mississippi widow, and you've got a bunch of stereotypes so full-blown they're positively postmodern. Amusingly so.
More problematic is the pacing, the boys having such elasticated fun with the set-up that they're forced to rush the final third. No doubt about it, the arsenic is applied too late and too fast, bodies dropping at a conspicuous, furious rate whereby a steady drip feed could have resulted in the perfect crime-com. What's more, Hall's mountainous frame makes her an overly fearsome foe, whereas the original's meddling landlady, Katie Johnson, was spindly as a toothpick, her refusal to cark it made all the more droll by her apparent frailty.
The Ladykillers 2004 scores big, however, in the looks department, regular Coen DoP Roger Deakins painting breath-snagging image after breath-snagging image. Forget any fears that the brothers are selling out by going mainstream: this may star Tom Hanks and arrive in the slipstream of the alarmingly impersonal Intolerable Cruelty, but it contains a remote beauty reminiscent of Miller's Crossing or Barton Fink. Polished pictures, skewed framing and enigmatic visual patterning: crisp, cold celluloid.
Which is where Uncle Tom comes in, his very presence guaranteed to cough out ticket stubs with a tickertape clack. It's a fine comic turn, Hanks relishing the professor's lofty dialect and equally florid tics, but it's more technique than embodiment, our master thief winking at viewers as he hoodwinks old Mrs Munson. You'll admire it, but you won't embrace it. Much like the film, really.
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Somewhere between vintage Coens and Intolerable Cruelty, this comedy of mannerisms scores decent change by stealing from Ealing.