May 11, 2011

Review: Burke & Hare

Pegg was mighty unimpressed with Serkis's hipster hat. For shame.
Director: John Landis
Release Date: 12 May 2011
Rating: M
Runtime: 91 mins

The mighty, they have fallen: and probably into a grave of their own digging. William Burke (Simon Pegg) and William Hare (Andy Serkis) are conmen of sorts. We meet the hapless pair on the streets of Edinburgh in 1828, trying to sell miracle moss from bonny Donegal to anyone stupid enough to take pause. Apparently, not such a convincing act, as the cheese mould is discovered in seconds and the deadend duo are chased over the cobblestones by riotous villagers. It's a new plan that needs a hatchin' and unfortunately for them, brains only pass in their vicinity in the form of fresh corpses, as opposed to getting thoroughly acquainted with the living, breathing sponge most of us use daily. 

Their new enterprise as grave robbers, which they come across by mistake, is sadly shortlived. What ho? Graverobbing a fun pastime? Not exactly what we're trying to say here, just that the synopsis of the film was entirely misleading in representing how Burke & Hare come across their bodies: bodies sold profitably (in a time of medical discovery and scholarship) to the Edinburgh Medical College. 

Against everyone's better judgement, not least the screenwriting team Piers Ashworth and Nick Moorcroft (who worked on both St Trinian's films together before this), Pegg and Serkis start giving people a nudge, and then a more definite push towards death, perhaps keeping with the notion that if you play it light hearted, everyone will forget it's murder you're committing. 'Oh look a puppy!' says Darth Vader as he draws out (draws out, fires up?) his Lightsaber and proceeds to cut off your arm. Mmmm, that'll work. If this film had been penned as a straight-up black comedy, perhaps we could commit more to the idea. However, the current even balance of light and dark only serves to confuse the viewer and doesn't allow us to invest in the concept as a whole. 

What's more, the laughs come sporadically: like having half-popped bubble wrap on the ground and stomping about willy nilly, you're not always guaranteed a success. Pegg is still loveable and Burke as a character has many redeeming qualities, but Serkis lacks the charisma he usually radiates like an iceberg poking out of a black, Arctic sea. The addition of big names in British cinema and comedy such as Bill Bailey and Tim Curry do little to drag this confused comedy out of the murky patch of bog marsh it seems content to reside in.

John Landis, who in his early career directed popular horror and comedies including The Blues Brothers. An American Werewolf in London, and Three Amigos (not to mention the music video for Thriller, possibly the only music video ever made to share popularity equally with critical acclaim) is actually responsible for the direction of Burke & Hare. A shame, really, when you consider his previous achievements in popular cinema. Burke & Hare? Non non, pas de tut. Burke & Shmeh. 


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