Sunday, 7 November 2010

Burke and Hare

Burke and Hare
Director: John Landis
Starring: Simon Pegg, Andy Serkis, Jessica Hynes
Runtime: 91 minutes
Rating: ***

John Landis is perhaps best known for formidable cult classics The Blues Brothers, and An American Werewolf in London, as well as a stream of commercial movies in the seventies and eighties. Burke and Hare, however, is the first film he has directed in twelve years. He seems to have gotten a little rusty . . .

Burke and Hare (Simon Pegg and Andy Serkis respectively) are a pair of penniless Irish opportunists looking to get rich quick in Victorian Edinburgh. After their initial venture fails (selling mould to the naive by claiming it has omnipotent healing properties!?), the duo resort to less respectable (and less legal) means of procuring an income. The twosome realise there is a gap in the market selling corpses to professors for use in medical experiments, but they soon find themselves faced with a dilemma. Where to get the corpses from? Pegg and Serkis rapidly win themselves a small fortune murdering those unfortunate enough to cross paths with them. However, the pair’s success is short-lived as suspicion begins to grow in the city.

Pegg and Serkis star alongside a host of British stars including Bill Bailey, Stephen Merchant, and an aging Ronnie Corbett in this blacker than black comedy. The slapstick Laurel and Hardy-esque humour of the film combines itself with a graphic violence, which ultimately manifests itself in an unsettling dark humour. Although this violent, deadpan humour is in many places effective, the film always feels somewhat awkward, in that it threatens to overstep the mark of what seems acceptable. Part of me, for instance, still cannot decide whether making the viewer sit through the four minute ‘burking’ (forcible asphyxiation) of an elderly woman is just a bit too much? Needless to say, this is not a comedy for the faint-hearted. Saying this though, where the comedy can be dubious, the script is for the most part punchy and well written. The playful relationship between Pegg and Serkis is often a pleasure to watch. It is only during the final thirty minutes that one can’t help feeling that (not just the script), but the denouement lets the viewer down, playing itself out with the type of cliché that has long come to be expected of Hollywood.

It seems that Burke and Hare is a movie which relies a little too much on its big names rather than its actual content. There is no doubt that the inclusion of Simon Pegg alone will bring many to the cinemas. Although his performance is really very good and the set-pieces of a bustling Victorian Edinburgh are truly impressive, the film lacks a general cohesiveness which makes it seem somewhat rushed and incomplete. I can’t help thinking that the tagline to the movie seems coincidentally appropriate: “They’re making a killing”. No doubt they are in the box office but those expecting the next Shaun of the Dead, or Hot Fuzz should be warned. Despite being rife with cliche Burke and Hare is overall an enjoyable watch, as long as you are content not to expect too much from it.

1 comment:

  1. I went to see this last night.
    You timed the 'burking' scene?
    With that level of analysis any film would end up like Tim Curry's dissected and bleached anatomical specimens: devoid of life. Perhaps you should have watched it for what it was: a tongue-in-cheek humerous romp through the grubbier passages of the Scottish Enlightenment and it's capital city.
    Pegg and Serkis work well together, they killed Christoper Lee, the one and only Count Dracula, for heaven's sake! I laughed like a drain when that odious Michael Winner went over the cliff (until I realised it was only make-believe!), and Wee Ronnie hammed it up as only a National Treasure can.
    Edinburgh however, was the best of the cast, benefitting from only a scattering of straw to get into character. (you can today still find guardhouses in the city's cemeteries where watch was kept against graverobbers!), and Isla Fisher is enchanting enough to inspire any young rogue to provide a steady supply of cadavers...they could start with some of the other reviews I have read. Mwoo, nya, ha, ha!