Friday, June 11, 2004
What's that you say? "Hit me baby one more time"?
Me and the family just finished watching Lady Killers and while it garnered mixed reactions from the audience, I myself enjoyed it very much. This is a big deal for me since I normally don't enjoy watching black comedy although there have been some rare exceptions in the past like Jawbreaker. Because the deal with black comedy usually is that you don't know whether you should be enjoying or cringing. Way too much thinking for such a light fare. Bleh.
The movie's story starts out rather uneventfully for a few minutes before Professor G.H. Dorr (Tom Hanks) comes a-knockin' on Marva Munson (Irma P. Hall)'s door. He's looking for lodging as well as a venue where he and his small group could hold their band practice (they specialize in Renaissance music, he tells her). The sweet little old lady was anything but sweet and outright she was suspicious of strangers letting her cat out the door. But the Professor was such a sweet talker he managed to get past her defenses without any hitch. He and his posse of characters moved in to the basement and set up shop for their real business. Those in that group were Gawain MacSam (Marlon Wayans), a young man with a short fuse working for the floating casino they were about to rob; Garth Pancake (J.K. Simmons), a weapons expert also working as an animal trainer working for television commercials; The General (Tzi Ma), an assassin Chinese immigrant who also manages a small donut shop in a mall; and, last but not least, Lump Hudson (Ryan Hurst), the muscle of the group who's also playing in College football.
Their plan to dig a tunnel from the old lady's basement to the casino's underground vault was foolproof all the way, they just a little problem with unforeseen accidents and some unfavorable circumstances brought about by short-end temperaments. There were also some times when they were almost caught digging by the old lady Munson, who was also starting to get suspicious about a few things she noticed about them. Like the time she saw them all dirty and sweaty when all they were supposed to be doing was practicing their music, or the time Professor Dorr was uppity with and avoiding altogether meeting the town sheriff, Sheriff Wyner (George Wallace) or the unexplained sound of explosions coming from her basement. But in each and every time they would just be smiling like nothing was wrong and escort her back upstairs. But providence, it seems, wasn't on their side after all. It was just waiting for an opportune time till they managed to pull off the heist and cover up their crime. Mrs. Munson caught them red handed and no matter how many excuses or how much Prof. Dorr would sweet talk her, she just wouldn't budge. Finally, she gave them an ultimatum - either they return the money and go to church with her next Sunday or spend the rest of their lives behind bars. Supposing they had no recourse but to silence her, they drew straws to know who would get to off her. The lot fell on MacSam and when he tried to get into position to shoot her, flashbacks of his Mamy beating him up and talking down to him began to flash through his head reducing him to a crumpled bawling little kid all over again. Mrs. Munson, who never suspected anything, smacked him back down to the basement. The others were flabbergasted at his ineptitude and during a gun scuffle with Garth, the trigger was accidentally pulled, killing him on the spot. It was bad enough they got caught stealing and it was worse when they lost one of their members, but it was hell when they caught Garth trying to get away with the loot after they got back from dumping MacSam's body on a passing river barge. They killed him along with his cohort and fiancee, Mountain Girl (Diane Delano). After dumping their bodies down the bridge on another passing river barge, the trio went home and drew straws. The lot fell on The General and he almost succeeded in killing off the old lady if he didn't get killed first after a series of unfortunate accidents. Lump and Prof. Dorr took the body and dumped it on another passing barge on its way to a garbage dump outside the town. The Professor then handed Lump a gun and told him it was his turn to kill the old lady. Lump refused to kill an innocent life and they had an argument about the whole thing. But, unfortunately Lump was killed on the spot due to some stupid mistake and promptly fell on another passing barge. Professor Dorr looked on and pondered on what he was about to do. He was now alone. When he saw a raven perch on one of the statues watching over the bridge he began to laugh to himself. The aptness of it all (he being a fan of the late great Edgar Allan Poe), the impending stain of the old lady blood on his hands, struck him funny. But it wasn't all that struck him that moment, a piece of that same statue broke off and hit him on the head. He fell headlong and before he hit the river, the hem of his coat was caught on the bridge and broke his neck. His body hung there for a moment before falling down on another passing barge. When the sun came up, the old lady got up from bed and discovered her guests gone leaving the pile of money on the table. Being a faithful churchgoer she reported the news of the missing casino money to the Sheriff's office. The officers told her to keep it (since in the casino was working on a loophole through the law and, in their reasoning, served them right by being robbed). She didn't keep it though and donated the whole lot to her favorite charity, the Bob Jones University.
It's been such a long time since I liked a movie that works on so many levels. Tom Hanks is really engaging and though his character has mannerisms that can be off-putting at times (his goofy laugh for one) and his Southern gentleman countenance does seem to be a bit extreme, he does manage to come up with one heck of an unforgettable character. It may come as a surprise that there are those who complain because of the caricature treatment of the characters. Well those characters were intended. The villains were meant to stand out in contrast to a little old lady from a small town community down South. There are also interesting references to Edgar Allan Poe like Professor Dorr's fondness for reciting the poem "To Helen" and, of course, the appearance of a Raven, the aptness of which, didn't escape his eye. The cast of the original 1955 movie included Alec "Ben Kenobi" Guiness and Peter "Inspector Clouseau" Sellers, and instead of having them rob a floating casino the original idea had them plotting and successfully mounting a train heist. It was also intended to be a dark comedy by the Coen Brothers took it a bit closer to black in this one. Not everyone likes it, although I do rave and applaud its story, again, for the lessons learned. The general theme, of course, is getting back what one deserves when you least expect it. But I must say that I didn't like the liberal use of such a strong language in the movie, particularly Mr. Wayan's character who peppered just about every other line with the F-word. I'm thinking the Coen Brothers must have done that purpose to fill people's ears until they've had enough or prolly because they had a quota. Whatever. There are some who rightly call it a morality tale of bad people getting their due for their evil deeds and good people being rewarded for standing up for what they know is right (check out the transcript of the hilarious sermon). The idea of the gang dumping bodies on a passing barge hauling garbage to a great heap outside the city walls bears a great similarity to the ancient practice of the early citizens of Jerusalem did with their trash and bodies of dead criminals that nobody wanted. This is what Jesus compared hell to during one of his talks. If you put two and two together you'd pretty much get the idea why the camera's almost always trained on those stone gargoyles too. I won't be complaining at all about the pacing of the movie in light of all these wonderful nuggets that I found. In line with all these, doesn't that line from an Alanis Morissette song, Ironic, seem appropriate to you?
Well life has a funny way of sneaking up on you
When you think everything's okay and everything's going right
And life has a funny way of helping you out when
You think everything's gone wrong and everything blows up
In your face
Funny indeed. Heh.
* Check out also the review in Hollywood Jesus for more insightful reactions to this great movie.