Burke and Hare: Film Review

Unpleasant drivel that tries to make fun out of murder.

LONDON -- The setting might be 19th century Scotland, but for his first feature in a decade, John Landis is back in the land of "The Stupids" with "Burke and Hare," a so-called black comedy that is more sort of dull, spotty and yucky.

Stars Simon Pegg and Andy Serkis, a cast of well-known U.K. faces and nostalgia for Landis' best work might attract early box-office returns, but dire word-of- mouth soon will undercut that promise.

Labored and obvious, the film fabricates a would-be bonny tale of two cheerful scalawags who prey on the poor, sick and elderly in the bowels of Edinburgh to sell their corpses to cheerfully corrupt doctors for medical research.

The real Burke and Hare were grisly thugs who murdered 17 victims and sold their cadavers to the Edinburgh Medical College. Their crimes were vile and disgusting, but Landis and the screenwriting team of Piers Ashworth and Nick Moorcroft, who perpetrated the recent "St. Trinian's" films, regard them as jolly larks.

The two are depicted as happy-go-lucky rogues who stumble upon an entirely reasonable way to make a florin or two even if innocent people die in the process. Heavy with CGI backdrops, the film follows them as they romp through the muck of taverns and alleyways to bump off the unfortunates who cross their path.

Pegg gives Burke a Dickensian air, an earnest chap who really just wants to make a life with pretty and chirpy Ginny (Isla Fisher), an actress who, in an inane plot development, aims to stage an all-woman production of Macbeth.

Serkis is all leers and bluster as Hare, whose wife Lucky (Jessica Hynes) is a demanding dipsomaniac not put off at all by her husband's nefarious industry. Tom Wilkinson and Tim Curry are pure uncured ham as the doctors competing to acquire the fruits of the villains' labor.

British audiences will relish an appearance by diminutive national TV comedy treasure Ronnie Corbett as an officious military man, and Dracula himself -- OK, it's really Christopher Lee -- shows up briefly as a man taking his last breath. What a pity he didn't bring along a stake to drive through the heart of this witless drivel.

Opened: Wednesday, Oct. 27 (U.K.) (Entertainment Films)
Production: Ealing Studios, Fragile Films
Cast: Simon Pegg, Andy Serkis, Isla Fisher, Tom Wilkinson, Tim Curry
Director: John Landis
Screenwriters: Piers Ashworth, Nick Moorcroft
Producer: Barnaby Thompson
Executive producers: James Atherton, Paul Brett, Jim Pace, Tim Smith, James Spring
Director of photography: John Mathieson
Art directors: Bill Crutcher, Nick Dent
Music: Joby Talbot
Costume designer: Deborah Nadoolman
Editor: Mark Everson
No rating, 91 minutes