City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

Burke and Hare: What the Critics Think


By edg - Posted on 29 October 2010

The reviews are in for Burke and Hare, the black comedy from John Landis, the veteran director of The Blues Brothers and American Werewolf in London. And the verdict is... a resounding thumbs-down.

Yes, there are historical inaccuracies- hardly surprising given that the true story of Burke and Hare is of grisly serial murders. And the scottish accents are iffy. But the main complaint, in a spate of one star and two star reviews, is that Landis's Burke and Hare is simply not funny enough.

"Where the script stumbles is in its absence of any especially funny setpieces or memorable lines. Instead, the scribes seem to think a general tone of wry amusement will suffice, with some slapstick thrown in for good measure," writes Charles Gant for top industry magazine Variety

Peter Bradshaw, at The Guardian concurs in his brief, two-star review:  “just isn't as funny as it needs to be”. The Hollywood Reporter goes further, writing the film off as "witless drivel."

Damon Smith of the Yorkshire Post writes in his 2-star review that it “isn't so much bad taste as completely tasteless.”

There seems to be general agreement that the cameo parts are more memorable than the main roles.

“Trouble is, Simon Pegg and Andy Serkis, as the titular duo, are stuck at the thoroughly mirthless business end of proceedings,” says Tim Robey, in his 1-star review for The Telegraph.

As others did, Robey found a scene where Paul Whitehouse is pushed down some stairs funny (he calls it the “one proper laugh”).

Edinburgh-born comedian Ronnie Corbett's small turn as an officious military officer also earned general praise. "A beautiful eyebrow-raise and lip-purse from Corbett is almost worth the film," says Nick Hasted at The Arts Desk.

Alison Rowat at The Herald - tongue firmly in cheek - gives Corbett credit for "rolling his Rs convincingly". Her 2-star film review sounds almost complimentary about the “light, likeable but perilously joke-lite picture from John Landis."

But then she puts in the dagger: "He’s got a serial killer storyline, backed up with some killer cameos. What he doesn’t have, alas, is much else. “

It's difficult to find much that reviewers did like about Landis's flick. Perhaps we shouldn't have expected much.

Jonathan Melville, in his 1-star review for the Evening News notes that “...Edinburgh herself is hardly seen here, a few quick shots of the castle slotted into sequences filmed in England.”

However, Anthony Quinn, at The Independent seems to like the atmosphere of the film enough to credit it with 2 stars rather than just the one, even if he was unimpressed by anything else:

"The streets of Edinburgh furnish a properly sinister backdrop to this macabre business, but the film-makers haven't a clue how to make it work as comedy. Instead of writing some good jokes they pack out the cast with celebrity cameos," he writes.

Maybe, as the Daily Mail points out, it was always going to be difficult to take the particularly unsavoury lives of the two central characters and make a comedy of it.

“Its principal defect is that it just isn’t funny. Tasteless? Yes. Vulgar? Undoubtedly. But funny? Not really. Mind you, lovable serial killers are a hard sell.”