The Ladykillers

dir. Coen

Opens Fri March 26

Various Theaters

Of modern filmmakers, no one loves the style of movies more than Ethan and Joel Coen. They love the pulpy murder mysteries (Blood Simple, Fargo, The Man Who Wasn't There) as much as the screwball comedies of the '30s (The Hudsucker Proxy, Intolerable Cruelty). However, while "style" gives the brothers their raison d'etre, it can also be the "petard" upon which they are "hoisted." For example, for all the noir-ish beauty of The Man Who Wasn't There, one needed a syringe full of adrenaline to stay awake. And while their newest outing, The Ladykillers, has comedy to spare, the Coens' Achilles heel of style once again places them in danger's way.

Tom Hanks is Professor Dorr, an over-educated con artist who devises a plot to loot a Mississippi gambling boat by taking up residence in the home of God-fearing widow, Marva Munson (Irma P. Hall). The Professor convinces Marva to let him use her cellar as a practice space for his "renaissance quintet," in actuality a gang of questionably talented criminals (Marlon Wayons, J.K. Simmons, Tzi Ma and Ryan Hurst) who intend to dig a tunnel to the casino's money. Due to bumbling circumstances, the heist goes south, and the gang attempts to bump off the widow Munson--a feat easier said than done.

The Ladykillers is a remake of a 1955 British screwball caper by the same name, and though it's transported from London to the Mississippi delta, it shares the original's penchant for dark comedy. Hanks' character is reminiscent of George Clooney's Everett in O Brother, Where Art Thou?, and his strong leadership along with Marlon Wayons' comic timing carry the movie. The problem with The Ladykillers lies in its clash of styles; scenes including the Professor and Marva play with the sparkling wit of Arsenic and Old Lace, but are interspersed with Wayons' modern-day ghetto comedy. Both are individually funny--but the juxtaposition is annoying.

Nevertheless, as a dark comedy, The Ladykillers excels, and while it's not what you would call an out-of-the-park Coen homerun (Raising Arizona) it's still a very respectable stand-up double (The Hudsucker Proxy).