Burke & Hare

U.K., 2010; John Landis

John Landis's notion of comedy is to get so many balls racketing around in the confined space of a motion picture that the audience will assume they must be having a rollicking good time watching it. And in case that doesn't work (as it mostly doesn't), make a point of including a lot of guest bits, cameos, and inside jokes to underscore what stylish fun everyone's having. Burke & Hare is the first feature Landis has directed in this millennium, and I suppose it makes sense that he was handed the job. One of his more presentable efforts was a UK-set movie, An American Werewolf in London, a horror film with overtones of black comedy, and Burke & Hare tells the story (well, a story) of the infamous Edinburgh graverobbers of the 1820s. When the lads ran out of graves to rob, they improvised, translating sixteen living people into cadavers for Dr. Knox's anatomy class. This 2010 production was the maiden effort of the, uh, re-animated Ealing company, which in the 1940s and '50s produced one classic comedy after another. Burke & Hare will not join that honor roll. Don't blame the ever-endearing Simon Pegg (Burke) or the ever-energetic Andy Serkis (replacing David "Doctor Who" Tennant as Hare). Or Tom Wilkinson and Tim Curry as rival surgeons Knox and Monro, or David Hayman as an early exponent of organized crime, or Ronnie Corbett as a dimwitted but dogged militia officer determined to put an end to the skullduggery. Landis tosses them all into his MixMaster—along with Isla Fisher as a saucy prostitute with dreams of a theatrical career, standup comic Bill Bailey as a hangman (who narrates the movie for us—"It's showtime!"), American Werewolf's Jenny Agutter, Christopher Lee as an imminent cadaver, and cameos by such nonactors as Michael Winner, cameraman Robert Paynter, and the great Ray Harryhausen—and presses the button for crush. The pursuit of guffaws in bad taste is relentless, which almost inevitably means that it's also monotonous. Still, I did enjoy the proposition that Dr. Lister had bad breath, and the glimpse of a certain Skye terrier in Greyfriars Cemetery. And the last shot is genuinely unsettling. —RTJ

Saturday, June 11, 8:30 p.m. at the Admiral

Copyright © 2011 by Richard T. Jameson




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