I don’t know how Landis could have a more indistinct return to feature directing than Burke & Hare. The film manages to be completely professional in all aspects–though the use of The Proclaimer’s “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles),” so well identified with Benny & Joon, is questionable. There are occasional Landis touches, but nothing really approaching any personality for the film or its characters.
The script goes to rehabilitate the image of the historic murderers Burke and Hare by making them lovable, funny men, so there’s not much for the film to do. But it doesn’t even do what its conclusion implies. For a ninety minute film, there’s a lot going on–besides the titular characters murdering people to supply cadavers, there’s a competition between two surgeons (a wonderful Tom Wilkinson and a goofy Tim Curry) and then Burke’s romance of a dance hall girl (or whatever they were called in 1820s Scotland).
As Burke, Simon Pegg is a secondary character until the movie’s half over. The first half is spent mostly on Andy Serkis’s Hare. Pegg does well in his scenes with love interest Isla Fisher (who’s occasionally good and always genial) but his scenes with Serkis don’t work. Serkis isn’t a movie star, Pegg is. There’s something off in the chemistry.
Jessica Hynes is good as Serkis’s wife, Michael Smiley’s excellent as Wilkinson’s sidekick… there really aren’t any bad performances.
Landis shoots it Panavision, which seems a little much. The film is still cramped.
It’s inoffensively without any value.
Directed by John Landis; written by Piers Ashworth and Nick Moorcroft; director of photography, John Mathieson; edited by Mark Everson; music by Joby Talbot; produced by Barnaby Thompson; released by Entertainment Film Distributors.
Starring Simon Pegg (William Burke), Andy Serkis (William Hare), Isla Fisher (Ginny), Tom Wilkinson (Dr. Knox), Jessica Hynes (Lucky Hare), Tim Curry (Dr. Monroe), Michael Smiley (Patterson), Ronnie Corbett (Captain McLintock), David Schofield (Fergus), David Hayman (Danny McTavish), Allan Corduner (Nicephore), Hugh Bonneville (Lord Harrington), Bill Bailey (Hangman), with John Woodvine (Lord Provost), Jenny Agutter (Lucy) and Christopher Lee (Old Joseph).