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Fate takes special delight in tormenting those deluded by greed and vanity into committing evil deeds. So do the Coen Brothers. A remake of the 1955 Ealing comedy transposed to the modern-day South, The Ladykillers doesnít suffer a lot by comparison. The magnolias and the fading gentility of a riverfront town debauched by malls and casino gambling make a fair substitute for the coal dust and vinegar of London, especially when evoked by Roger Deakinsís cinematography and a soundtrack ranging from gospel to "hippity-hop" to Boccherini.

Tom Hanks wonít make you forget Alec Guinness as Professor G.H. Dorr, a lubricious font of sham erudition resembling a cross between Colonel Sanders and Satan, but at least he doesnít let loose that hideous braying laugh as often as the filmís trailers would suggest. Heís gathered together a crew of oddball incompetents to knock over the local riverboat. To do so he must tunnel through the root cellar of bowlegged but feisty Miss Marva Munson (Irma P. Hall), convincing her that he and his men are members of a Renaissance quintet. Such mendacity and arrogance will not go unpunished.

Some filmmakers suffocate under formula; the Coens thrive on it, savoring sadistically the Rube Goldberg mechanics of, say, how the logical connections among a cuckoo clock, a cigarette, a set of dentures, and a cat named Pickles can end in sudden, hilarious death. Likewise, the story clicks with icy clockwork, leaving no loose end unaccounted for. Despite allusions to Poe and the Golden Calf, itís the Coensí most uncluttered entertainment since Blood Simple. (104 minutes)

Issue Date: March 26 - April 1, 2004
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