We need more directors willing to take risks with films like Get Out.
The genius of Alec Guinness was in his anonymity. He could play a character so ingratiating that he ingratiated himself right into invisibility, and that was the secret of his work in "The Ladykillers," a droll 1955 British comedy that also starred Peter Sellers and Herbert Lom. Now comes a Coen brothers remake with Tom Hanks in the Guinness role, and although Hanks would be the right actor to play a low-key deceiver, the Coens have made his character so bizarre that we get distracted just by looking at him.
Hanks plays Goldthwait Higginson Dorr, who claims to be a professor of Latin and Greek, who dresses like Col. Sanders, and who seems to be channeling Tennessee Williams, Edgar Allan Poe and Vincent Price. As in the original, he rents a room from a sweet little old lady, and plans to use her home as a base for a criminal scheme. In this case, he and four associates will tunnel from her root cellar into the cash room of a nearby casino named the Bandit Queen. The professor explains to the L.O.L. that the five of them are a classical music ensemble who need a quiet place to practice; they play music on a boom box to cover the sounds of their tunneling.
The other crooks represent the extremes of available casting choices; all of them, like the professor, are over-the-top in a way rarely seen outside Looney Tunes. Gawain MacSam (Marlon Wayans) is a trash-talking hip-hop janitor at the casino; Garth Pancake (J.K. Simmons) is a mustachioed explosives expert who asphyxiates a dog in an unfortunate gas mask experiment; the General (Tzi Ma) is a chain-smoker who once apparently specialized in tunnels for the Viet Cong, and Lump (Ryan Hurst) is a dimwitted muscle man who will do the hard labor.
The little old lady is named Marva Munson, and she is played by Irma P. Hall in the one completely successful comic performance in the movie. Yes, she's a caricature, too: A churchgoing widow who doesn't allow smoking in the house, has regular conversations with the portrait of her dead husband, and is not shy about complaining to the sheriff. But her character is exaggerated from a recognizable human base, while the others are comic strip oddities.