Burke and Hare (2010)

Burke and Hare is Sunday-afternoon entertainment. It is simple, light, silly, funny and enjoyable. Anyone hoping for something amazing or ground-breaking or horrific or scary or massively satirical will be disappointed. Tragically this is a nothing film – it is entertaining while it is happening, but utterly forgettable. Not Landis’s worst work, but miles away from his best.

Burke and Hare is based loosely on the West Portland Murders in early 19th century Edinburgh. Irishmen William Burke and William Hare spent a year killing people and selling the corpses for medical research. These are our heroes and this is a comedy…

Director John Landis has been away from the Feature Film scene for over a decade and is making his come-back with Burke and Hare. It’s a welcome return for a much-loved director, but it’s tragically nothing special. Landis has been responsible for some ground-breaking films (American Werewolf in London, The Blues Brothers, Michael Jackson’s Thriller video) and some utterly diabolical turds (Oscar, Beverley Hills Cop 3, Blues Brothers 2000), but Burke and Hare sits uncomfortably in-between genius and terrible. It is… *shudder*… mediocre. This is never a word this reviewer expected to call a Landis film, but this is an accurate description of it.

Burke (Simon Pegg) and Hare (Andy Serkis) are flat broke. Their latest desperate scheme failed miserably and Mrs. Hare (Jessica Hynes) adds to their money woes as one of her permanent guest-house residents has died. Linking the two problems together, Burke and Hare sell the deceased lodger’s corpse to anatomy-expert Dr Knox (Tom Wilkinson). Realizing they have an excellent business-opportunity in an untapped market, they decide to murder people “for science”, selling the cadavers for a handsome sum. Motivated by greed and love, the duo embarks on a killing spree, where their only limit is how many people they can murder…

It doesn’t take too long for the authorities to realize something is amiss, and soon Burke and Hare find themselves under scrutiny from the local militia, jealous gangsters and Dr Knox’s professional rival. Desperate to avoid the inevitable death penalty, the two men attempt to untangle themselves from a web of their own creating, but is it too late to avoid the noose?

Burke and Hare is a very British film, despite its American director, with roles and cameos from the likes of Christopher Lee, Tim Curry, Bill Bailey, Reece Shearsmith, David Schofield, Stephen Merchant and Ronnie Corbett. The majority of these roles, however, feel superfluous and tacked on. The comedy is light, occasionally childish and never unexpected. It’s not awkward, but just incredibly safe for a film about serial killers.

It is a shame this vehicle for Simon Pegg and Andy Serkis wasn’t as successful as it could’ve been. Pegg has done little of brilliance since Hot Fuzz and Serkis desperately needs to be cast in something other than performance capture work. They’re both excellent actors and it is disappointing they were lumbered with this daft comedy instead of something truly hilarious and / or disturbing. Those expecting another American Werewolf in London will be bitterly and brutally disappointed. It is a jolly comedy where the central characters are murderous swines and the world they live in is populated by bastards and morons… although everyone is oddly likeable despite this.

There are some brilliant moments and many subtly sly references throughout (Greyfriars Bobby, Nicéphore Niépce’s photography, cameos from Jenny Agutter and John Woodvine of American Werewolf fame), whilst also drowning in anachronisms and profound silliness. Landis is a good director, but he suffers here from being given a very perfunctory script from Piers Ashworth and Nick Moorcroft. This is perhaps no huge surprise as these writers were responsible for the lukewarm St Trinian’s movies, but you would hope for more edge and tighter plotting.

Ultimately, Burke and Hare is a disappointment. Being an Ealing Studios title, being John Landis, being a post-Spaced reunion of Pegg and Hynes, being Serkis and Curry and Wilkinson and a host of other awesome talent… you simply WANTED this to be excellent. Tragically it is not. Good for a bit of a laugh in the afternoon, but little else.

Burke and Hare is light entertainment and easily forgettable. Stupid in places, hilarious in some, dull in a few, packed with comedy-cameos and cheekiness – this is nothing special, but nothing terrible. Burke and Hare is mediocre fun.

Rating: ★★★★★★☆☆☆☆

One Comment on “Burke and Hare”

  1. daniel kent says:

    Christopher lee could have done more

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