It's always slightly exciting for a child of the 80s - such as myself - when a true legend that helped define one of my favourite decades of films finally returns after a prolonged absence. For his first film in nearly 12 years, John Landis - famous for genuine classics such as The Blues Brothers, An American Werewolf in London and Animal House - brings us the dark macabre tale of the Burke and Hare murders with a slightly comedic twist.
The film, set around the aforementioned body-snatching/murders, portrays William Hare (Andy Serkis) and William Hare (Simon Pegg) as down on their luck con-men who stumble upon a lucrative business of supplying a highly distinguished doctor (Tom Wilkinson) with dead bodies for educational and research purposes. Of course it's never quite that simple and as their social status rises on account of their wealth, the duo also sink deeper into the criminal underworld, annoying the wrong people from the local mob to the Scottish Militia.
If I'm being honest, there's something I really like about Burke and Hare - and annoyingly I can't figure out what - however it's by no means a perfect, or indeed a brilliant, film. Though being a huge fan of both Pegg and Serkis their Irish accents were a bit rough around the edges to say the least, Pegg - perhaps it's time to stop milking the likeable loser persona - occasionally sounded like he was dipping back into his English accent from time to time, which is a shame considering how brilliantly he nailed an American accent in 2006's Big Nothing. Serkis meanwhile actually faired quite well, nailing a semi-decent, if slightly over-exaggerated Northern Irish accent - but being someone from Belfast, I find hearing my home country's accents quite painful on the big screen anyway. Their natural chemistry together was wonderful, even if their characterisations of Burke and Hare felt like they could have been lifted from a staged pantomime.
The entire support cast was littered in an impressive who's who of British comedy including the likes of Bill Bailey, Jessica Hynes, Hugh Bonneville, Ronnie Corbett, Stephen Merchant and Reece Shearsmith. While also including some real veterans of the screen such as Christopher Lee and a cult-favourite of mine, Tim Curry.
It comes to no surprise the infamous and almost institutional Ealing Studios made the film, as it at times came across as a film the studio could have quite easily made with Peter Sellers, Alec Guinness and co back in 50s and 60s. Unfortunately because of this, the film takes formulas which feel tired and dated, not quite on par with the real wit and edginess the majority of these comedy actors can effortlessly produce. However I did find it really hard not to smile anytime Ronnie Corbett was on the screen, as the way he conducted himself was very much in a similar mould to his legendary Two Ronnies sketches with, the now departed, Ronnie Barker.
At times the film also lacked a bit of cohesion, not sure whether it wanted to be a dark comedy or some bizarre parallel retelling of William Shakespeare's Macbeth. Made all the more knowing from the sub-plot involving Isla Fisher's determination to produce an all female production of the Scottish play - a slightly cheeky nod towards Edinburgh's richly vibrant Fringe Festival. The Gothic undertones were faintly in keeping with movies such as, Guy Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes, Tim Burton's Sleepy Hollow and the Hughes Brothers adaptation of Alan Moore's From Hell (not to mention the opening Halloween weekend of its release), it's just a shame Burke and Hare just simply didn't have the cinematic panache to match these films - perhaps through a combination of a lower budget and rustiness of John Landis.
Not dark enough to be a black comedy, but not slapstick enough to be a laugh a minute. Burke and Hare certainly isn't John Landis' finest moment of his career, and could quite possibly mark a tragic, whimsical end for the once infamous director's sparkling career. Simon Pegg and Andy Serkis lead the ensemble well in a mostly entertaining affair which unfortunately could've been made for television at Christmas and nobody would probably be able to tell the difference.
See This If You Liked...
Sleepy Hollow, From Hell, Sherlock Holmes
Burke and Hare is in cinemas everywhere now.