Title: Burke and Hare
Director: John Landis
Starring: Simon Pegg, Andy Serkis, Tom Wilkinson, Tim Curry, Isla Fisher, Ronnie Corbett, Bill Bailey
The opening moments set the tone for Burke and Hare; a satire on the infamous crime that took place during the late 1820’s in Edinburgh, Scotland. It feels like a Mel Brooks’ spoof where the characters are playfully keeping straight faces. Based on the story, the movie actually follows the reported events fairly well. The only difference is the realistic characters are sarcastically putting on a lively show.
Edinburgh is the home of two prestigious medical schools, whose research is on the cutting-edge. Leading the way at each respective school is Doctor Robert Knox (Tom Wilkinson) and Doctor Monro (Tim Curry). Cadavers are at a premium these days, for Monro has tapped his friends in the political system to pass a law stating that all corpses – most of them as a result of a public hanging – are to be donated to his school for dissection and study. This perturbs Knox as he struggles to find cadavers for his students to work on.
On the other side of town is William Burke (Simon Pegg) & William Hare (Andy Serkis). These two partners are failed entrepreneurs who learn of Knox’s need of dead bodies. When the duo just so happens to stumble upon a corpse, they realize how handsomely Knox will pay for more. A light bulb goes off, and Burke and Hare have found their next business venture. But what they failed to account for is how to maintain a steady supply. And that’s where things get amusingly interesting.
This is a 91 minute dark comedy that will keep one constantly grinning the entire time. A few killer one-liners will have one laughing out loud no matter what setting they watch this in. Pegg and Serkis are dynamic in this more-or-less buddy-comedy that weaves in some of the finest British actors from multiple generations. You’ll know the faces if not the names, for they’ve all been in the biggest movie franchise of the last decade. In fact, the only who is missing is Jim Broadbent.
As the eager fellas begin to find half-assed immoral ways to keep business going, eventually the local militia – led by Captain McLintock (Ronnie Corbett) sporting a Napoleon-complex – becomes suspicious of all parties involved; and this cat-n-mouse subplot picks up around two-thirds of the way through. It should be noted that this is also the point where the humor gets very dry and the historical aspect of the story comes into the forefront while the comedy becomes the backdrop. The final act is still enjoyable to take in though as long as one can remember that this is based on a true story. And it’s not like the subtle humor completely disappears.
The environments, or set designs, are phenomenal by the way. Sure there are plenty of natural landscapes that hearken back to the time period depicted here, but the costuming and dreary atmosphere adds another element for the audience to explore.
Overall, Burke and Hare is a quiet riot. It actually has replay value after you do a little research on the actual events that took place nearly two centuries ago. Plus some of the dry-comedy is more humorous the second time around. If you’re a fan of Mel Brooks’ works this product becomes a must-see. Fans of Simon Pegg’s brand of humor will also be pleased what they unearth in this comical flick.
Review by Joe Belcastro