I was looking forward to this film. John Landis directing a black comedy about murderous grave-robbers? Simon Pegg and Andy Serkis as a gothic Laurel and Hardy? A cast made up of British comedy talent such as Jessica Hynes, Reece Shearsmith, Ronnie Corbett, Steven Merchant and Bill Bailey? What could possibly go wrong?
Then I saw this trailer:
It looks like fucking "Nuns on the Run" or "The Pope Must Die" or "Splitting Heirs" or some other bullshit Brit-Com from the olden days. I told myself that it was just a bad trailer and everything would makes sense in context. The accents wouldn't be as grating, there wouldn't be a shitty, anachronistic soundtrack, and trailer-man won't be intoning bullshit about "these guys" over the top of it. The film would be better.
And it is. A little bit.
The film is about Williams Burke and Hare, two Irish immigrants in Edinburgh who discover that they can make some cash by selling bodies to a local surgeon who wants to make the definitive anatomical almanac. It's a true story and has been filmed plenty times before and all that.
This is a black comedy that isn't very funny. It's not repellently unfunny, it's just that a strange awareness begins to creep over you as the film progresses, an awareness that you aren't laughing very much. Every set-piece feels under-cooked and un-inspired, a lot of the gags are telegraphed or familiar, and there is a general sense that the film is somehow unfinished.
This is present in the slightly sloppy editing, as scenes drift by without a purpose, go on a shot or two too long, or cut away before a logical conclusion. It's as if they started rolling on an unfinished script, in the hope they could chop some sense into it later, but it didn't really come together.
There will be much debate, I'm sure, about the accents of the various performers, as almost none of them are using their own. Pegg and Serkis do okay, with Pegg being the least convincing Irish man, Hynes fluctuates wildly and little Aussie fitty Isla Fisher does well with her Scottish. The performances are mostly fine, with Pegg being the boyish innocent being led astray by Serkis' amoral opportunist, Fisher being her usual cute-as-a-button self, Hynes being unusually sexy and predatory when not covered in porridge or something and the roll-call of familiar faces all manage to say their lines without bumping into the scenery.
Which brings me to another problem: Whilst Pegg and Serkis are pretty funny together, it felt like not enough attention and screentime was paid to their relationship and their "work". The plot becomes preoccupied with Pegg's attempt to woo Fisher's Ginny, and the central duo seem to spend less and less time onscreen together. Any humour to be generated from a tangible connection between the two leads is squandered in favour of motoring on to the next comedy cameo.
So a mildly watchable film with some evocative sets and locations, a few choice lines here and there and some vaguely amusing performances, but a crashing disappointment from the swathes of talent involved.
You do, however, get to watch Gollum vigorously shagging Daisy from "Spaced", if that's your cup of tea.