A key comparison to make between the output of The Coen Brothers around this period is that mediocrity reigns supreme. Between Intolerable Cruelty, their later efforts in Burn After Reading, and The Ladykillers, all the spots are there, but nothing comes to fruition for me in the way our narrative comes together. With this being the very first remake Joel and Ethan Coen took on, it’s somewhat understandable to see their style take the backseat in the hopes of divulging a faithful adaptation of the Alec Guinness led 50s feature of the same name. It doesn’t work quite as expected, but still has its moments of experience amongst a rather formidable cast, something the Coen’s always manage to bring together with relative ease.
Tom Hanks, as much as I love his abilities as an actor, feels out of place as Professor G.H. Dorr. An underwhelming effort that sees him take on the striking role of a professor with a keen grasp of the intricacies of the English language. Each line of dialogue thrown his way overflowing with pretention, it’s a great way of building the character, but nothing close to the more memorable or charming characters the Coen’s have offered up in their lighter projects. Dorr is rather flat, a performance that lives or dies on how much humour you can drag out of articulation, he falls tremendously when compared to the smaller characters, specifically Tzi Ma’s role as The General and Marlon Wayans as Gawain MacSam. Some roles are just rather bland, Ryan Hurst offers nothing as the brute, simple-minded Lump Hudson, and J.K. Simmons feels off-key with his portrayal of demolitions expert Garth Pancake.
Some of the jokes here fall rather flat. A bank robber with I.B.S., a brief Stephen Root role that doesn’t do much for him, and considering how great he is in other Coen projects, it’s a shame to see that he doesn’t inspire much out of the script here. In fact, nobody can really muster any energy from the script in this one, and it all feels rather underwhelming. Moments that do capture the energy and style of the Coen’s, but with a weird disconnect between the writing and the more farcical moments it wishes to display. Joel and Ethan’s direction is rather standard, not bringing out the best in their story at all, but with one or two moments that stand tall above the rest.
The Ladykillers feels forced in its humour, its connotations of strikingly good performances aren’t enough for the directing pair, who go out of their way to provide amplified moments of excitement or comedy. Their need and desire to be above the rest of their own films and that of the original creates a strange disconnect between artist and writing. An Americanized re-telling of a classic Ealing comedy, a rather bland adaptation with a few whimsical moments throughout, but not enough to keep it together for its entire running time.