By EW Staff
January 23, 2004 at 05:00 AM EST

What can one little old churchgoing lady do to stop a gang of thieves planning a heist — and planning also to kill said lady, after she discovers their scheme?

Plenty, as you’d expect from ultra-fatalistic filmmakers Joel and Ethan Coen. In the spirit of earlier tales of criminal plots gone awry (see: Fargo, Blood Simple), the brothers have reworked director Alexander Mackendrick’s notably ghoulish 1955 British comedy of the same name. The original starred Alec Guinness as the ringleader crook and a young Peter Sellers as a henchman. This time around, it’s Tom Hanks who assembles a crew, as phony-baloney Professor Goldthwait Higginson Dorr III, with Remember the Titans’ Ryan Hurst as a thug named Lump and Marlon Wayans as coconspirator Gawain McSam. Wayans found himself a bit spellbound by Hanks’ Mississippi-style drawl, especially in scenes where the professor unveils a plan to tunnel from the rented-out root cellar of an elderly priss (Soul Food’s Irma P. Hall) to a riverboat casino. ”Tom is very aware,” says Wayans. ”Of where the camera’s at, where to play his looks. [He’s] just so technically sound…. You sit there and you’re learning s — -.” (March 26)