The Ladykillers: Bad burglars, bad language

The Coen Brothers have made a habit of telling stories about idiotic criminals who learn the wages of sin. The Ladykillers is no exception. It stands out only because a) it is a remake of a 1955 comedy caper, and b) the Coens have stooped to more sophomoric and crass humor than ever before.

Thus, mainstream critics are giving The Ladykillers a cooler reception than they gave last year's Intolerable Cruelty. Many wonder what happened to the heart and the art that distinguished Fargo, Miller's Crossing, Barton Fink, and the goofy O Brother, Where Art Thou? Even though The Ladykillers features a funny performance by Tom Hanks and a soundtrack of boisterous gospel music, the lows apparently outweigh the highs.

The Ladykillers concerns a self-declared criminal mastermind known as Professor Dorr (played by Alec Guinness in the original, Hanks here) who pulls together a highly inept team of cons to rob a steamboat casino. They make their move by tunneling from an old woman's basement into the casino's cash stash. But then they hit a snag: The old woman is a cantankerous Baptist churchgoer who will not tolerate wrongdoing in her house.

The Coens can probably continue to turn out stylish capers like this for decades. But the sophisticated stride that made their first run of films so remarkable has here degenerated into a sophomoric stumble. There was a time when these quirky filmmakers took their characters half-seriously. We came away doing more than just quoting them. We cared about them.

While The Ladykillers' foul language is certainly excessive, the film has three distinct virtues that may make it worthwhile for those who can shield themselves from the annoying dialogue: Irma P. Hall's ...

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