The Coen Bros. first try at a remake proves at least somewhat better than their first real mainstream studio comedy – last year’s dull and smarmy “Intolerable Cruelty” – and yet it’s far from their previous highs let alone the classic hijinks of the 1955 original. Still, whilst it may not work as a Coen Bros. film, the rather odd mix of highly eccentric caricatures with off-kilter dark humour and Southern gospel tones yields a decent enough comedy with some laughs and distinct characters. The premise could’ve yielded so much more though.
Tom Hanks delivers his most unusual performance to date, and as an actor I’m not usually a fan of it proves to be his most fun in a LONG time. The Dorr character with all its mannerisms, speech inflections and appearance isa little too much admittedly, but you have to laugh and go with its flamboyance. Assorted other characters like JK Simmons not too bright explosives expert, Tzi Ma’s steadfast Asian general, Marlon Wayans street-wise inside man all mix well even when the humour gets a little too dumb.
Irma Hall nearly equals Hanks as the steadfast moral old Christian lady who (aside from being difficult to understand through her thick Southern twang) helps make judgements based on the constantly changing facial expression of a painting of her late husband.
The script does mix its dark humour and slapstick quite well but some of it feels tired, others seem so dumb (such as the Irritable Bowel Syndrome stuff), and then with 20 minutes to go when the crooks finally decide to live up to the film’s title, it turns oddly absurd with bodies piling up faster than an Arnie movie.
The Coen’s music reminds one much of their “O Brother Where Art Thou” work, whilst the production design nicely recreates the South but in an odd mix of eras (aside from a few tech gadgets, this feels like the whole film is set in the 1930’s). It’s better than most dumb studio comedies out there but Coen fans will be really let down. Then again those not into Fargo, Lebowski and the like may like this more.