Burke and Hare Movie Review

Burke and Hare Movie Review

Directed by John Landis
Written by Piers Ashworth and Nick Moorcroft
Release Date: 9 September 2011
Running Time: 91 minutes
Editor’s Rating: 2.5 Christopher Lee cameos out of 4

Remember everyone, times may be tough now, but never forget that we’re never (hopefully) going to get as bad as anywhere that had an industrial revolution, because those are what Charles Dickens novels are made of, and despite what anyone tells you, being a person living in those times was the worst. Just downright terrible. The only time it was worse was when it was, well, before that. And then before that.

Gosh, how sad it is that right now is the best it’s ever been (on average) for the human race. Well, what do you say we get to the funny part?

So Burke and Hare follows the (sort of) true exploits of William Burke and William Hare, two con men at the end of their ropes. It’s only when Hare’s roommate dies that they see an end to their problem--see, back in 1827, the medical field of anatomy was growing. No one had ever cut into a dead body and called it science before, and the Scottish town of Edinburgh was the most prestigious place at the time to do it in. People would come from far and wide and pay pounds on the kilometer to see world-renowned doctors carve up other poor stiffs in the name of advancing medical science. Truly it was an age of reason, with considerably less leeches and nowhere near as much talk of humours or forced enemas, so what did it matter that people were killed just to sell their dead bodies to the highest bidder who just happened to be from those same academic institutions?

Oh wait. I’m sensing a bit of hypocrisy here, but hey, if a bunch of poor people have to die just so some rich ones can live, who are we to judge? A lot of us are alive today because of methods developed during this era and refined in the decades afterward, so by Jove, let’s take a giggle at how our fellow humans killed other humans.

That last paragraph was dark and unsettling. The paragraph before that was morbidly funny (if I do say so myself). That’s what a dark comedy is supposed to do. It should unsettle but also make you laugh. It should take you to moments of creepiness and bring you back with a joke or two. However, it should keep the tone of the film unified as something that stands far and away from the rom-com, the bromance, the road trip, and other funny flicks. Unfortunately, Burke and Hare doesn’t seem to get that, and it’s definitely not for a lack of trying on the actor’s part.

Andy Serkis and Simon Pegg are two actors who are incredibly talented on their own, and bringing them together works so well it’s hard to take your eyes off them. Unfortunately, the moments that they get together feel few and far between as the film tries to decide which of its many subplots it’s going to focus on, in many cases dropping the already-interesting story of people murdering people to sell their bodies. In doing so, a lot of the other side talent this film drew in, namely Isla Fisher, Jessica Hynes, Tom Wilkinson, and the great Tim Curry, become underutilized one-note characters.

If the film actually focused more on the chemistry between its title characters and the real-life persons they were portraying, the film would have been much tighter, funnier, and most importantly, a successful dark comedy. As it stands, it’s a shotgun blast of fart jokes, body humor, and half-baked anti-institution jokes that happen around a nonchalant serial killing with a side order of puns and historical references (shout-out to Greyfriar’s Bobby). It’s not amazing, and that seems to be it’s greatest disappointment. A story told with a cast like this should have been a home run, especially under the film’s director - one of my favorites, John Landis. However, he really fumbles his approach here and the film suffers terribly because of it. It’s sad really, because it makes me think that he’s fallen down the same well that the once-great Zucker brothers have been wallowing in since Scary Movie 3. Say it ain’t so, John. Say it ain’t so.

**This film is not for kids, so leave them out of it. I saw this on a Netflix account I pay for. I was not compensated for this review.**

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