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Buena Vista Home Video presents
The Ladykillers (2004)

"Now I don't know what you boys been up to. But I know mischief when I see it."
- Mrs. Munson (Irma P. Hall)

Review By: Jon Danziger   
Published: September 06, 2004

Stars: Tom Hanks
Other Stars: Irma P. Hall, Marlon Wayans, J. K. Simmons, Tzi Ma, Ryan Hurst, George Wallace
Director: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen

MPAA Rating: R for language including sexual references
Run Time: 01h:43m:59s
Release Date: September 07, 2004
UPC: 786936239492
Genre: black comedy

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B+ B-A-A- B-

DVD Review

The brothers are goofing again. Joel and Ethan Coen continue to churn out a picture or so a year, and while it's unfair to judge every one of their works against their high water mark, which I would argue is Fargo, it's hard to avoid the sense that they're treading water a little bit these days. They're also continuing their dance with the studio system—their previous picture, Intolerable Cruelty, was produced by Imagine Entertainment, Ron Howard and Brian Grazer's company; and this one is a remake of one of the most beloved Ealing studio comedies of the 1950s. If they're not exactly hanging Kick Me signs on their backs, they do seem to be wandering a little bit, shooting other people's scripts and re-working other people's movies.

And the results are a little uneven here. The Coens' incarnation of The Ladykillers is set in contemporary Mississippi; though not a period piece, like O Brother Where Art Thou?, here the Minnesotans display a fascination with all the twisted things below the Mason-Dixon line. They've also got a huge bona fide movie star on their hands, once again; Tom Hanks is outfitted in spectacular false teeth and white suits to play the oleaginous Professor G. H. Dorr, looking for a room to let in the home of Mrs. Marva Munson, played with verve by Irma P. Hall. Her husband has already made his trip to the great hereafter, and Mrs. Munson, a kindly old sort, is a devoted supporter of that illustrious institution of higher education, Bob Jones University.

Of course the professor is more than merely an academic on a merry sabbatical working on Renaissance music—he's in Mrs. Munson's house not for her charms or accommodations, but rather for her root cellar, which will provide a convenient underground passage to the cash reserves of a nearby riverboat casino. Dorr has rallied a ragtag team to his cause, and here's where the Coens get goofy merely for the sake of being goofy. Hanks seems to be having a ripping time with his accent and accoutrements, and it's a kick to see him playing a bad guy; and Hall seems to know that this is her best opportunity to shine on screen. They're not always fabulously well supported, though. Very funny is Marlon Wayans, as a janitor at the casino, the inside man; he's quick to throw down, but he's got some unresolved issues with his mama. Less successful is J. K. Simmons as the improbably named Garth Pancake, a doofus of an explosives expert; the plot leans on him a lot, but he's not an actor of great comic invention. (Then again, Garth and the Coens make irritable bowel syndrome a significant plot element, and you've got to respect any movie that does that.) Given even less to work with is Ryan Hurst as the aptly monikered Lump, the muscle of the operation; and underutilized is George Wallace as the local sheriff.

The storytelling is leisurely, and the pleasures of the movie are mostly found in the Coens' dialogue; their collective ear is as sharp as anyone's, and a bunch of lines here are sure to get you to bust a gut. (Some of them are Wayans', but most are in the exchanges between Hanks and Hall.) You get the sense that some times the script is trying a little too hard, that the Coens know that the material is essentially slight. But even if this isn't their best effort, this one is sure to make you laugh out loud at least a couple of times, and as always with Coen movies, the technical values are incredibly strong.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: As he has done for a raft of Coen pictures now, cinematographer Roger Deakins turns in another bravura performance here—the movies he shoots are always beautiful to watch, and this one is no exception. His work is transferred with precision and without visual interference, and looks mighty fine.

Image Transfer Grade: A-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital
English, Frenchyes

Audio Transfer Review: The soundtrack for this film hasn't been as celebrated as the one for O Brother Where Art Thou?, but it may be just as good, with more of a gospel flavor here. The transfer is clean, too, with tremendous dynamic range and excellent balance.

Audio Transfer Grade: A-


Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 12 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in French, Spanish, English for the hearing impaired with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
7 Other Trailer(s) featuring The Last Shot, The Alamo, King Arthur, Jersey Girl, The Village, Splash, Alias: Season Three
4 Featurette(s)
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: Unquestionably the most valuable extra here is termed Script Scanner, and it runs only on your PC (not your DVD player, and not your Mac, unfortunately). The Coens' screenplay is reproduced in its entirety, and you can click back and forth between their script pages and the same scenes in their final form; given the brothers' keen visual style, it's fascinating to see their shorthand on paper for what ends up on screen. Also here are two gospel songs (Shine on Me, Trouble of This World) sung by the Abbot Kinney Lighthouse Choir with Rose Stone and the Venice Four, featured in the movie, in full-length performance versions; Danny Ferrington: The Man Behind the Band (11m:04s), focusing on the friend of the Coens who made the period instruments for the picture; and what's called the Slap Reel (01m:36s), outtakes of Irma P. Hall beating the snot out of Marlon Wayans. Also, there's an opportunity to register your DVD with Disney, which I find creepy, Orwellian and Divxy.

Extras Grade: B-


Final Comments

Maybe not in the pantheon of Coen pictures, nor a remake that's likely to eradicate memory of the original; but there's some very funny stuff in here, and the screenplay access on the DVD is a great window into the brothers' creative process.


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