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Review: John Landis Burke & Hare, starring Simon Pegg (Fantasia 2011)

Aug. 8, 2011by: Chris Bumbray

PLOT: Nineteen century con-men, Burke (Simon Pegg) and Hare (Andy Serkis) stumble upon a profitable new endeavor, grave robbing and murder- which allows them to sell cadavers for medical dissection to the deep-pocketed Dr. Knox (Tom Wilkinson).

REVIEW: BURKE & HARE is director John Landis's first film since 1998, and as a longtime fan of his, it's been on my must-see list since hitting theaters in the UK nine months ago. Following a run at the Fantasia Film Festival, it looks like it's finally going to hit North American theaters.

While coming from the director of AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON, probably the best horror-comedy mashup ever made, BURKE & HARE is not particularly reminiscent of that film, with this being more of a slapstick romp. In fact, I'd say BURKE & HARE owes a lot to the films of Mel Brooks, with Landis adopting the same wild, gag-a-minute approach. For the most part, this approach works wonderfully, as BURKE & HARE is a phenomenally entertaining ninety-minutes of fun.

Those who are historically inclined (or perhaps have just seen THE DOCTOR & THE DEVILS or THE BODY SNATCHER) will know that BURKE & HARE were real grave-robbers/murderers, and the details of the crimes and outcome are surprisingly accurate (or at least to what's reported on Wikipedia). That said, they're given a comic make-over that makes them a couple of lovable rogues, and despite chalking up a rather large body count, you'll be on their side throughout.

Putting Simon Pegg and Andy Serkis together was a stroke of genius, as they share the same winning comic repartee as Pegg does with Nick Frost. Both are terrifically funny, with Pegg being the level-headed Burke, and Serkis being the scamp-ish Hare. The film makes it's North American debut hot on the heels of Serkis' triumphant turn as Caesar in RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES, and this film gives audiences a rare chance to see the man himself in the flesh. He's hysterical as Hare, and his chemistry with the great Jessica Hynes (of Pegg's SPACED) who plays his boozy wife, makes for the best parts of the film.

Meanwhile, Pegg gets the lovely Isla Fisher as his love interest, with her being a manipulative actress/prostitute, who dreams of putting on an all-female production of MACBETH, bank-rolled by Burke's deep pockets. While it's Pegg and Serkis' film all the way, Fisher is very funny, and considering her looks and talent, it astounds me that she's not yet considered Hollywood royalty. The supporting cast is also very nice, with Tom Wilkinson is a rare comedic role as Dr. Knox, who dissects bodies for his map of the human anatomy, which he hopes will win him a knighthood. His competitor is played by the still-fabulously funny Tim Curry, who I haven't seen in ages, but has a few great bits of business here. A veritable who's who of British comedy rounds out the cast with the great Ronnie Corbett having a sizable role as the police constable hunting down the grave-robbing duo- with other familiar faces (including Stephen Merchant) popping up here and there.

Overall, BURKE & HARE is a lot of fun, and Landis' best film since at least INNOCENT BLOOD. It's good to see him back.

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