The Ladykillers 

(R) 4 stars

(R) 4 stars
Ever since Tom Hanks became the equivalent of an American saint, it’s been easy to forget that he used to be savagely funny. After numerous Oscars, light Meg Ryan comedies and way too many serious roles, he returns to all-out comedy as sneering con man Professor G.H. Dorr in the latest from the Coen Brothers. The Professor assembles a crack — er, cracked — squadron of experts to carry out a daring casino heist, including an overconfident jack-of-all-trades (J.K. Simmons), street-talking janitor (Marlon Wayans), Hitler-esque Vietnamese general (Tzi Ma) and a loveably dumb lunkhead named Lunk (Ryan Hurst). The Professor dresses and speaks like a man out of time, and he meets his foil in a proper churchgoing widow (Irma P. Hall) who is every bit as much an anachronism as he, and whose basement he needs to make his scheme work. The Coens assemble the group’s plan and escapades with the expert construction of a conventional caper flick, like Ocean’s Eleven, and then merrily blow it all apart into a comedy of very bungling errors. Everyone involved is on tip-top comic form. Simmons is a riot as a demolition man to whom nothing is a big deal until it involves his girlfriend, Mountain Girl. Wayans plays the same character he’s always played, totally straight, and in this context it’s hellaciously funny. Hanks is perfect as he preens, speaks over everyone’s head in ever-bigger words and remains perfectly calm in almost every situation. He’s the mirror image of George Clooney’s pseudo-intellectual crook in O Brother, Where Art Thou?, except his heart of stone turns out to be exactly that. It’s one of his best performances since — well, since ever — and one can only hope it receives the amount of acclaim it deserves. At the center of it all is Hall as an impossibly sweet old lady just living her life, talking to her late husband’s portrait, devoutly attending services and smacking down anyone who smokes, uses bad language or tries to play “that new hippity-hop music” in her house. The Coens sidestep what could have been the easy solution of having Hall outwit and smite her opponents as if this were an elderly Home Alone, and instead let blind fate, the crooks’ bumbling and Hall’s own sweetly beatific but absolutely no-nonsense nature guide the day. The Ladykillers isn’t terribly deep, but it’s certainly a lot of fun. See it because the Coens once again defy expectations. See it because Hanks and Hall are pitch-perfect. See it just because it’s wildly entertaining and will definitely leave a smile on your face.

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