Burke & Hare
01 November 2010
John Landis’s latest feature in eons stars Simon Pegg and Andy Serkis as the titular entrepreneurs, who had the genius idea of selling corpses to Edinburgh’s world-renowned medical schools. It has a brilliant supporting cast with Jessica Hynde and the ever-so-likable Ronnie Corbet. There are three genius cameos by Christopher Lee, Stephan Merchant, and Bill Bailey … you know where this is heading already …
The problem with Burke & Hare isn’t the lack of talent or premise - even only one of the aforementioned people’s involvement would make any film interesting with at least a few bright ideas that take it beyond its premise. Yet, Burke & Hare is neither funny, nor scary. It is quite tame in Landis’s standards on both fronts. This is the guy who scared us to death with An American Werewolf in London (1981), while making our bellies ache with laughter. This does neither.
Not all of it is doom and gloom, though - Jessica Hynde once again proves that she should be in more films and Isla Fisher’s actress-wanabe actually provides some light-hearted moments that carry her boring storyline forward. Having said that, her efforts in staging the first all-female production of Macbeth deserves its own film, but it only serves as a plot device that never really achieves its potential: Simon Pegg’s Burke is so smitten with the girl, he pledges to finance his play and against his moral judgement decides to help his friend Hare (Serkis) out with collecting corpses.
While watching the film, another thing occured to me: we have pretty much nailed the ancient civilisations, Medieval times, and the Baroque Europe in cinema. Yet, how come we cannot yet make a decent Victorian-era film? Why do they feel more phony and staged, relying on well-worn cliches (pubs were nasty, people throwing their excrement on the streets, which were filled with urchins …), rather than using what is one of the most transitory and eventful eras in the world history? Surely, we can make better films than the likes of From Hell (2001) or Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007)?
Burke & Hare relies too much on its premise and tries to ride the wave of its acting talent, but without a good script it predictably falls short of even being average. One wishes Simon Pegg had a little more say in the script and that Andy Serkis was given more room to use his dramatic range. A missed opportunity and not something Landis would like to be remembered by, for sure.