Simon Pegg, Andy Serkis, John Landis, Isla Fisher and an endless list of other British comedy talent – needless to say, I was rather excited about “Burke and Hare”. I had my reservations about the subject matter, taking a vile story about two real-life murderers and turning it into a comedy seemed a little off, but I’d let the aforementioned dream team prove me wrong if they wanted. Unfortunately, even though I did let them, they couldn’t quite produce what I was hoping for. In short;
“Burke and Hare” isn’t very funny.
And it’s clearly meant to be. You can identify the jokes/pratfalls/ho ho ho he’s pulling a funny face because someone’s thrown shit on him, it’s just they don’t hit the funny bone. Now and again, there are a few laughs – mostly courtesy of Jessica Hynes – but the vast majority of the ‘funny bits’ are about as humourous as actually having a bucket of shit dropped on your head. It’s such a shame too, because the talent involved is of the highest order – this is comedy royalty – from the actors to the director, they’ve all done comedy pretty much perfectly in the past – so why didn’t it work here?
I suppose the blame has to go to the script – because that’s from where the funny should be ‘brought’. Only, it wasn’t. Although take out all the attempts at comedy, and the script isn’t all that bad – it’s supposedly the most true-to-life version of the Burke and Hare story – and it’s certainly never boring. It’s just it probably would have worked much better as a serious exploration of the murders, and could have offered up a far more worthy insight into the (lack of) morals of these two reprehensible human beings. Instead – har har hee hee they just suffocated a man, hee ho hum, a man fell down a hole, tee hee hee, those men a chasing a barrel down the street!
Also, they make you feel sorry for these characters – Simon Pegg’s Burke is only killing people to help raise money for his girlfriend’s all female version of Macbeth. He’s essentially murdering people in order to get laid – poor guy, don’t you sympathise with him? Of course, there have been other morally dubious films/shows before (American Psycho, Dexter) but they get away with it by firstly being fictional, but also by including slight elements that offer up interesting discussions to run parallel with their mad methods. “Burke and Hare” doesn’t.
Still, I don’t want to be too hard on the film, and I’ll certainly say that I did enjoy it. But entirely as a time-waster. It’s breakneck, lightweight (aside from the true-life subject matter) and yes, fun, but it’s got way too many things going against it to make it truly recommendable. It’s no “National Lampoon’s Adam and Eve” (i.e. terribly unfunny, low-budget inept bollocks), because it looks and feels like a proper movie – it’s full of massively famous people (at least in the U.K) – and it even sounds like a proper movie, insofar as you could be forgiven for thinking it was funny if you weren’t really paying attention. On closer inspection however, it reveals itself to be a massive waste of comedy talent.
One example is Reece Shearsmith – a big name in the world of English comedy and one of the originators of “The League of Gentlemen” – here, he’s relegated to a completely pointless role of a guard/soldier/whatever he is, and is granted no memorable moments whatsoever. I did find out that John Landis hadn’t actually heard of him and that Shearsmith pretty much only signed on so that he could work with Ronnie Corbett (another laughless role) – but surely once you’d realised, you’d at least give him something funny to do?
Overall, a gigantic let-down. When the funniest part of the movie is Jessica Hynes with her face in a bowl of porridge, you know you’ve gotta try harder next time.
Check out Gazz’s hilarious report from the “Burke and Hare” red carpet premiere here. – Ed
John Landis (director) / Piers Ashworth, Nick Moorcroft (screenplay)
CAST: Simon Pegg … William Burke
Tim Curry … Dr. Monroe
Isla Fisher … Ginny
Andy Serkis … William Hare
Christopher Lee … Old Joseph
Tom Wilkinson … Dr. Knox