‘Dead’ balances horror with offbeat dark humor

Oh brother, where art the Coen Brothers, you ask? That question will be answered after viewing “The Ladykillers.” Filled with their typical shenanigans, the film is clearly a product of Joel and Ethan Coen (who are also responsible for “Raising Arizona,” “The Big Lebowski” and “Fargo”), and I would imagine that very few would have it any other way.

Based on the critically acclaimed 1955 comedy of the same name, the film tells the tale of five men who attempt to rob a casino. Led by the Professor (Tom Hanks), the group seems to cover all the bases needed for a successful robbery. However, what seems to be a fail-safe plan is compromised when Mrs. Munson (Irma P. Hall), whose root cellar is being used as the base of their operation, learns of what they have done. The five men decide that they must kill Mrs. Munson, but none of them realize just how difficult this will be.

The characters never really change their clothes throughout the film, and if they do, it is only a minimal change. They also repeat many of the same lines during the course of the film. With character titles like “Lump,” “The General” and “Mountain Girl,” it is evident that each character is more of a caricature than an individual, a clear indicator that this a Coen Brothers film.

Visually, the Coen Brothers are on target as usual. For all of its generalizations, the film is very detailed and carefully constructed. Some of the shots in the film are so creative that they are almost distracting and I often found myself wondering how such prolific filmmakers can continually create such inspired visuals and hit the bullseye every time.

Many of the events in the film seem extremely absurd if imagined outside the context of the film. However, the Coen Brothers have successfully created yet another world in which anything can happen. Somehow, seeing a cat carrying a finger in his mouth did not seem all that strange in the world that was shaped on screen, nor did a painting that could move seem out of the ordinary.

The only times that the film really faltered were the times when it tried too hard to be funny. It was at these times that I was removed from the world of “The Ladykillers” and returned back to the movie theatre. Ironically, I found the film to be hilarious, but not at all funny. It cheated itself by aiming for superficial jokes when it was already loaded with genuine humor.

The wonderful Tom Hanks gives an inspired performance, showing that he has clearly not lost his flare for humor. Marlon Wayans adds to the star appeal and gives a very solid comedic performance. Thanks to the wacky performances of a more-than-decent cast, the film is able to display some insightful wit.

The film did not need to try as hard as it did, and this extra effort only weighed it down. However, looking back, I can filter out the flaws and see the film as a whole, much of which was quite wonderful. It illustrated just what the Coen Brothers are capable of at their best. It is amazing that the Coen Brothers can paint all of their movies with such a broad brush, yet still highlight the idiosyncrasies of their characters, like a painter detailing fine china.