For the traditional Coen Brothers Asheville Film Society anniversary selection, we find one of the Coens’ most underrated — and even controversial — films: their 2004 remake of the 1955 Ealing Studios comedy The Ladykillers. For reasons I never fully understand, people get their knickers in a twist whenever someone remakes a highly regarded classic. Why? It does nothing to the original — except to draw attention to it, potentially making the original known to people who otherwise would never have heard of it. (Someone remind me I said this should there ever be an attempt at remaking Ken Russell’s Tommy.) In truth, the Coen film is somewhere in between an homage to the original and an Americanized-modernized reimagining of it. I have no trouble at all loving both films (and the original is one of the very few Ealing comedies that I think still lives up to its reputation). The story here has been transported to a small town in Mississippi where a naïve God-fearing old lady (the wonderful Irma P. Hall) just happens to have a house with a cellar — the same cellar a gang of thieves plan to use to tunnel into the vault of a casino. The mastermind of the whole thing is a decidedly eccentric academic (maybe) with a penchant for old-fashioned Southern clothes and the works of Edgar Allan Poe. He calls himself Professor G.H. Dorr — played by Tom Hanks in one of his most unusual performances. Hanks and Hall alone would make the film worthwhile, but the Coens also give us stylish direction, clever dialogue and a marvelous soundtrack of gospel music. The biggest problem with the film is Marlon Wayans as the trash-mouthed member of the gang. Yes, it sets up some great moments with the old lady, but his character seems to have wandered in from another movie altogether — and his nonstop profanity alienated more than a few viewers who went to the film to see “that nice Tom Hanks.” Wayans doesn’t come anywhere near sinking this black comedy of crime gone wrong, but neither does he do it any favors.
The Asheville Film Society will screen The Ladykillers Tuesday, May 28 at 8 p.m. in the Cinema Lounge of The Carolina Asheville and will be hosted by Xpress movie critics Ken Hanke and Justin Souther.