Plot: A professor assembles a ragtag team of criminals, poses as a classical music ensemble to gain access to an old lady's basement, and then digs a tunnel to a nearby casino in order to pull off a heist. It goes about as well as you'd expect for something like this in a Coen Brothers' movie.
This isn't nearly as good as the majority of the rest of the Coens' filmography, and it's nowhere near as good as the original Ealing Studios version with Alec Guinness. However, it's not the complete waste of time that I thought it was. I had plans to watch a few Coen Brothers I'd only seen once (this, Burn after Reading, No Country for Old Men) before watching the new one, but that's not happening. Instead, I just watched this, a mess of a comedy made up of a lot of really fun bits.
I'm not clear on what the commentary is, but there's a lot of clashing in this. There's a soundtrack of gospel and hip hop, the terrific Irma P. Hall making recurring references to A Tribe Called Quest's "I Left My Wallet in El Segundo." There's the clash of characters, Tom Hanks erudite Southern professor with 27 dollar words mixing it up with Hall's uneducated naivete and deeply religious sensibilities. And there's a clash of ideologies with gambling boats and Bible Belt sanctuaries, the religious background of the old lady and the scientific mind of the professor. Lots of clashing.
I really do like the cast, and I like a lot of the writing.
"If ass was nickels, you'd be a motherfucking millionaire." That's gold!
"We must all have waffles forthwith."
"You brought your bitch to the Waffle Hut?"
"I feel 50 pounds lighter."
"I can't really play the butt sack."
"I got blueberry syrup on my safari jacket."
I also like most of what Tom Hanks' character says, the sort of lines that'll help you increase your vocabulary if you're willing to pay attention. Hanks, I think, is more of a chameleon than people give him credit for, and his character, even though he's in a mess of a movie and doesn't have any depth at all, is definitely memorable. I love the scene where he tests the acoustics of the cellar. Tzi Ma is The General, a character who always looks like he's on the verge of exploding. He gets to do a little cigarette trick several times. Ryan Hearst's Lump character is severely underdeveloped, so much that he's barely there at all. He's a dumb jock, a character that any screenwriter can create on a piece of single-ply toilet paper, a character as sophisticated as a fart joke. Marlon Wayans never seems like he quite fits in the Coen universe, the character just a little too all over the place. He's got the best name though--Gawain Macsam. Unless "Mountain Girl" counts as a name. J.K. Simmons' Garth Pancake (another great name!) is the most fun although the character is too ridiculous to really take seriously, even in screwballery like this. It's great to hear him say, "Fuckin' A," but it just doesn't seem appropriate. It's like somebody else made The Ladykillers and wanted to make it Coen-esque and had just seen Lebowski and felt a "Fuckin' A" was the best way to get there. Irma P. Hall is the best, so severely bowlegged that you start to wonder if it's a special effect.
I also liked the cat--Mr. Pickles.
There's a stunning first shot, then a poignant shot of trash, and then some CGI birds. And you wonder immediately what's going on. CGI birds? It just never feels completely like a Coen Brothers' movie, and that's what you expect when you start watching a Coen Brothers' movie. The storytelling is a mess, and not in the refreshing and vibrant way that The Big Lebowski is sort of a mess. The characters are introduced awkwardly, and then they're all together and you start to wonder how this was all patched together. There are fart jokes, references to Irritable Bowel Syndrome, and product placement (Burger King thrice, Hefty trash bags, and Goldfish Crackers), and none of those feel like they belong in a Tom Hanks movie or in a Coen Brothers' movie.
All in all, it's a movie that I don't exactly hate watching, but it's not what you'd expect from guys who would be pretty high on your list of favorite modern filmmakers. It's a movie with far too many sore thumbs. You should definitely see the Ealing version instead of bothering with this one. Well, unless you're a huge fan of Tom Hanks and want to see him acting really goofy or if you think Irritable Bowel Syndrome is hilarious.