Monday 21 February 2011


Out now on DVD and Blu-Ray is John Landis' newest film. Read on to see if it was a successful return to the director's chair...

In 1820's Edinburgh, Burke and Hare (Simon Pegg and Andy Serkis) are a couple of Irish immigrants looking for a way to make a living. After discovering how much money the local doctor pays for cadavers, they embark on a new business together that could make them a fortune; Grave robbing. When the supply can't meet demand they decide that murder is the only option, but the captain of the Edinburgh militia (Ronnie Corbett) is fast on their trail.

Simon Pegg's had what could be described as an 'interesting' film career so far, balancing his excellent work with Edgar Wright with some broadly comic roles that have allowed him to work with his fanboy idols. Here Pegg is given the opportunity to work with John Landis, director of such classics as Trading Places, The Blues Brothers and An American Werewolf In London. It's a pretty impressive filmography that unfortunately hit a creative wall in the 1990's, churning out the poor Beverly Hills Cop III and Blues Brothers 2000.

In Burke and Hare there's plenty of British comedy talent on show, from blink and you'll miss them appearances by Stephen Merchant and Paul Whitehouse, to meatier roles for Jessica Hynes and Ronnie Corbett. If you're a fan of John Landis films and know what to look out for, there's a few old time directors to spot (Ray Harryhausen, Michael Winner getting the comeuppance so many have hoped for) as well as at least three cast members from American Werewolf. Landis clearly holds the UK comedy scene in some high standing, although these cameos do prove quite a distraction from the story.

Not that there's too much to miss really, as it's a fairly simplistic (however true it may be) tale. As the opening credits attest, 'This is a true story, apart from the parts that are not'. Well the tale of the grotesque grave robbing duo Burke and Hare has been given a bit of a makeover to make sure our leading men are at least sympathetic. Rather than the infamous West Port murderers of Edinburgh lore, they've become two chancers who merely saw a way to make their fortune and win the hearts of their women.

It's not particularly a situation that's filled with comedy. It tries its best to create a Blackadder-esque sense of revisionist tomfoolery, but fails in its attempt to deliver enough laughs. Take the singing out of Sweeney Todd and all you're left with is death and dirty backstreets.

Simon Pegg and Andy Serkis (in a role originally meant for David Tennant) aren't particularly terrible as the cadaver wielding chums, but they struggle to work any comedy into the story (Serkis and Hynes' sex scenes are playful, but also frankly disturbing). It's Pegg's lot in life to continually play the befuddled straight man, but this film suffers from the lack of a comedy machine like Nick Frost, in sore need of a good improvisor who can work with the material. The closest thing Burke and Hare's got is the veteran of British comedy Ronnie Corbett, stealing most of the scenes he's in just by existing.

Whilst not flat out terrible, it's a run of the mill return for John Landis. Burke and Hare may be far more enjoyable than his lowest ebb of Blues Brothers 2000, but hopefully this is just a warm up for a complete return as a director of classic comedies.


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