Starring: Simon Pegg, Andy Serkis, Isla Fisher, Tom Wilkinson, Tim Curry, Christopher Lee, Ronnie Corbett
Director: John Landis
Writer(s): Piers Ashworth, Nick Moorcroft
Cinematography: John Mathieson
Original Score: Joby Talbot
Running Time: 91 mins.
There are a great number of poor, weak and down-right bad films released year in, year out, very rare that the elements making up said films are as promising as those that are present in Burke & Hare, a director best known for the much-loved American Werewolf in London among many, many other great comedies at the helm, a vintage support cast of Brit actors surrounding the central pairing of Simon Pegg and Andy Serkis who are both currently highly regarded actors both in comedy and drama. Add to this a subject matter ripe for a number of approaches whether it be serious or comic and this should really be a no brainer given it concerns the exploits of Williams’ Burke and Hare, two grave robbers turned murderers whom supplied Edinburgh’s teaching doctors with a steady flow of corpses in order that they can make a mint and the doctor can put himself on the medical map, alas what we have is a film that fails on so many levels…and that is putting it mildly, down-right awful is probably more apt!
It is a little hard to know where to place the blame for this travesty, Landis, despite having made some great films in the 80’s, has sunk recently with his last efforts being Beverly Hills Cop 3 and Blues Brothers 2000, hardly films to fill you with inspiration! Something which rings true and Burke & Hare seems to be totally unaware of what it wants to be, genre-wise! There are lame efforts at comedy that sit purely in the gros-out area with buckets of shit and squirting blood substituted for anything that could actually qualify for a laugh, simply because the script doesn’t allow for anything witty, clever or, simply put, humourous, this type of grim effort at comedy would have seemed dated in the 60’s!
Ironically it is Ealing that precurses the film, acting as production company we hope from the Ealing banner and a inspired opening salvo with Bill Bailey we may just be in territory ripe for the enigmatic production company, dark and twisted whilst being very, very funny much like The Ladykillers, what transpires is something much more akin to Sex Lives of the Potato Men, a put-down that quite frankly is the pinnacle of put-downs! It is easy to see why this material would be the perfect fit for Landis, there is a great story to be told but the focus of the film’s plot drifts around and tries to take in too many plot developments and characters, if nothing else I suppose there is a level of enjoyment to be taken from spotting each cameo but some only serve to highlight what Burke & Hare wants to be rather than what it actually is. Case in point being Christopher Lee, appearing for a matter of seconds and leaving next to no impact, not the fault of Lee but rather the plotting which is dull and lifeless, much like the corpses the titular characters collect.
The biggest let-down here are the central pairing, both Serkis and Pegg are capable actors and very funny comedians (given the right material) but here they are left floundering with a lack of chemistry that further hinders any enjoyment to be found in the characters, characters who are so two-dimensional one can only imagine the stars hadn’t read the script prior to signing their contracts! Serkis comes out of the whole debacle the better off of the two, at least displaying a little of the grubbiness and nastiness the characters needed much more of, on the flip side is Pegg who is just far to nice to convince as a murderer on any level which leads me onto the biggest misgiving of all, the love story shoe-horned in to try and add a little emotion…needless to say it doesn’t work. Isla Fisher is a fine comic actress but is lumbered with quite possibly the worst and most feebly written part in a script that is overflowing with them.
Quite frankly awful, Burke & Hare squanders a promising premise in favour of a lame sub-plot that neglects the much more interesting overall picture, though that is just the start of this film’s woes!