Burke & Hare

Director: John Landis (2010)
Starring: Simon Pegg, Andy Serkis, Isla Fisher, Tom Wilkinson
Find it: IMDB, Amazon

John Landis directs Simon Pegg and Andy Serkis in a black comedy about serial killers, enlisting, as he goes, the help of British comedy's finest. How can Burke and Hare go wrong? I'm not sure, but it does.

I had my doubts when I first saw the poster - a jaunty affair that's more Carry On than Hammer Horror, and makes Simon Pegg look weird - but remained hopeful through to the film itself. I mean, the cast is a dream. Ever since Spaced and Shaun Of The Dead, I've had a massive man-crush on The Pegg, and (Burke and Hare included) have never seen a flick of his that I've not enjoyed on some level. Yes, even that one with David Schwimmer. A good rule of thumb though: if you see Pegg employing an accent other than his own, then the film's not gonna be one of his best. His Scotty in Star Trek is possibly my least favourite Pegg performance so far.

Andy Serkis too, rarely makes a bad movie. Casting the two as Burke & Hare sounds like a genius move on paper, but rarely transfers onto the film itself. Likewise, the rest of the
movie is populated by a veritable Who's Who of British comedy, and should in theory make Burke and Hare the funniest movie in years. In theory.

In reality, no. Too much relies on the audience's recognition of its famous faces. Which is fine here in England, but I doubt an overseas audience will know who the likes of Reece Shearsmith, Paul Whitehouse or Ronnie Corbett are. About 50% of my enjoyment of the movie was derived from my amusement at seeing Bill Bailey and Stephen Merchant pop up in little roles. If I hadn't known who they were, I'd probably give even less of a feck.

Burke (Pegg) and Hare (Serkis) are Irish immigrants in 19th Century Edinburgh. Down on their luck and utterly skint, they happen across a corpse in the guesthouse that Hare's wife runs. What else to do but sell the body to a local medical school? Turns out that dealing in the dead is good business, and the chaps decide to make supply meet demand. Murder most foul ensues.

Where Burke and Hare is funny, it should be a lot funnier. Its jokes are predictable and fall flat; for a black comedy, it isn't nearly black enough. And the punchlines ruined by the actors' atrocious accents. Even the normally superb Andy Serkis struggles with his silly Oirish accent. Pegg is even worse. How much of that is intentional, I'm unsure of. But it's distracting and a waste of talent, given all involved. It's neither as funny nor as scary as An American Werewolf In London.

What it lacks in wit, I suppose, it makes up for in charm. Although they have little chemistry to speak of, Pegg and Serkis coast by on likeability earned by past glories, and Isla Fisher's love interest is simply adorable. Tim Curry rocks a small role, whilst Tom Wilkinson's surgery subplot is nicely done.

Burke and Hare is likeable and passably amusing, but fails to live up the potential offered by its talent, on and offscreen. It promises a comedy Hammer but delivers something more akin to Sweeney Todd crossed with Year One. A misfire, by people who should have known better.

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