John Landis' romantic comedy take on grave robbing finally ran in the US as part of the Film Comment Selects series at Lincoln Center here in New York City.
The film is the oft told tale of Burke and Hare, here played by Andy Serkis and Simon Pegg. Immigrants from Ireland, the pair can't make any sort of living in their adopted Scotland. When one of the people that shares their home dies, they are hard pressed to get rid of the body. By sheer luck they hear that a Dr. Knox is looking for bodies for his anatomy classes. Knox is thrilled and he offers the boys money if they can get him more bodies. Flushed with the prospect of ready cash they begin to speed up the process of body collection.
A funny (often ghoulishly so) comedy, this film is very much the work of John Landis. Saying that is an odd thing since the film started out being put together by Ealing Studios, and only came together when Landis went to visit a friend, director Gurinder Chadha. Chadha had an office at Ealing, and she introduced Landis to the producer. Landis worked on the film and brought it to the big screen in a form that is 70% of what he intended. During the post film Q&A Landis revealed that his cut was much darker, but he was forced to make changes by money men who didn't seem to have read the script; for example, they were shocked that one of the lead characters died. It's a film that is a mix of low brow and high brow humor. If you want to know how it plays think of the man who did The Blues Brothers and Kentucky Fried Movie, in addition to American Werewolf In London, and you'll get the idea.
I liked this film. Is it great? No, but it has lots of laughs and some ghoulish chills. (I think my loud laughter is what made Landis stop and say hello to me on the way to the stage). It's a great deal of fun.
The cast is a blast. To be certain Pegg and Serkis are way better than the material, but on the other hand it's just a great deal of fun watching them chew the scenery. Ronnie Corbett is equally wonderful as the captain of the militia on the trail of the grave robbers. (An aside from the Q&A; Corbett was to be the butler in the Landis directed Trading Places, but refused to leave London to work). I also loved Bill Bailey as the hangman who tells the story; he needs to do more films. Actually everyone is wonderful.
If I was to point to one flaw, it's that the film simply tries to do too much. For example the film's love story involves Pegg and an actress who wants to put on an all female version of Macbeth. While it does make for some great moments, it also unbalances the film as it seems to be trying to run too close to the Bard's tale for good measure.
Still, the flaws are minor, and while they may keep the film from being great, it's never less than completely enjoyable. I really liked this a lot, and the ending made me feel strangely warm and toasty.
I have no idea what the US release for this is; I know for a while it didn't have one at all. However I'm sure this will show up at some point on some sort of US screen, and when it does, do make an effort to see it since you will have a good time.
This film hit US Screens in early September 2011 thanks to IFC Films. I'm guessing this will mean that the film will also be onthe IFC in Theaters and IFC pau per view services.