It's one thing when some two-bit director goes and remakes "Dawn of the Dead" or "Texas Chainsaw Massacre," but it's quite another when the critically anointed princes of cinema, Joel and Ethan Coen, decide that they're too lazy to write something original and dig through cinema history to unearth a film few people are likely to remember.
One surmises that Hollywood finally got sick of the Coen brothers trotting around and doing things on their own schedule. The time between "Intolerable Cruelty" and "The Ladykillers" is the shortest turnaround in the their careers, so perhaps it's not surprising that they would turn to a remake in order to save time. Some may call it a brilliant reinvention of an old story. I just call it lazy.
The story follows a con artist, Professor G.H. Dorr (Tom Hanks), who finds what he thinks is a perfect mark in Marva Munson (Irma P. Hall), an elderly woman with a room for rent in a large house where there's a root cellar, perfect for Dorr's plan to tunnel into a nearby casino and make off with some cash. However, it quickly becomes obvious that his plan is unlikely to end in success since Dorr picks morons for his cohorts: the foul-mouthed Gawain MacSam (Marlon Wayans), the overconfident Garth Pancake (J.K. Simmons), a former Vietnamese General (Tzi Ma), and a dumb jock named Lump Hudson (Ryan Hurst).
There's something curious about a couple of Yankees making a film that not only paints most Southerners as morons, but is particularly harsh on black folk. Gawain is the quintessential lazy, disrespectful young black man. The town sheriff (George Wallace) is introduced sleeping on the job. Perhaps Marva can be seen as a beacon of humanity, but her role as the film's hero seems mostly accidental.
Then again, just about everybody in the film is an idiot, not because they're necessarily stupid, but because each and every one of them thinks they're smarter than they really are (with the possible exception of Lump). If this is a lesson in the pitfalls of intellectual vanity, the Coen brothers might want to glance in the mirror.
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