A man falling in a hole. Jessica Hynes face down in a bowl of porridge. Simon Pegg and Andy Serkis being showered with shit.
Believe it or not, these are the comedic highlights in John Landis’s woeful return to the big screen after a decade-long hiatus, an inept black farce about two 19th century bodysnatchers that couldn’t be more lifeless if it was one of their victims.
Already the subject of numerous films (from 1945’s The Body Snatcher to 1985’s The Doctor And The Devils), Burke and Hare were an Irish pair of scumbags who killed people in order to sell their corpses to Edinburgh’s medical fraternity.
Yet the way Landis tells it, the two Williams were just opportunistic scoundrels who fell into their lucrative line of work by accident.
We’re meant to chortle heartily, then, when they smother Christopher Lee in his bed, or cause a horse-drawn carriage carrying Michael Winner to plunge off a cliff.
It’s also supposed to be endearing that Pegg’s Burke is only doing it to raise money for his actress girlfriend’s all-female Macbeth, a pitiful excuse for Isla Fisher’s precocious wannabe to mangle the Bard in a beard and kilt.
Sadly, Landis gets it wrong at every conceivable level. The gags aren’t funny. The gore’s too graphic. The performances are so broad and cartoony it’s like we’re watching Carry On Graverobbing. Scenes drag on interminably, then peter out without a punchline.
The timing. Is completely. Off.
Okay, so the Auld Reekie of the 1820s is convincingly recreated in a way that juxtaposes the ostentatious wealth of its hoi polloi (represented by Tom Wilkinson and Tim Curry’s rival surgeons) with the grimy poverty of its rank and file.
Yet a turd is a turd no matter how much you polish it, embellish it or fill it with slumming British comedians.
Oh, and can someone explain to us why the film features Greyfriars Bobby when the mutt wasn’t born until 1855?
The John Landis who brought us American Werewolf and ‘Thriller’ is but a memory in a rotten romp that’s downright criminal.