Burke and Hare, John Landis, 92 mins (15)
Out of the Ashes, Tim Albone & Lucy Martens, 90 mins
Famous faces, infamous story, but the screenplay leaves you cold
It's been almost 30 years since John Landis made An American Werewolf in London, but if Burke and Hare is anything to go by, he still adores Britain and its actors as much as they adore him.
The evidence of this mutual attraction isn't just the casting of Simon Pegg and Andy Serkis as Edinburgh's notorious bodysnatchers, or of Tom Wilkinson, Jessica Hynes, and Ronnie Corbett in supporting roles. No, what's striking is the way that Landis has cast famous Brits in even the smallest parts. Bill Bailey has about four lines, Reece Shearsmith has about three, and they're ubiquitous compared to Christopher Lee, Jenny Agutter and Stephen Merchant: the man who co-wrote Extras is essentially an extra himself. Presumably, these luminaries were queuing up for the chance to work with the director of Trading Places and The Blues Brothers, and he was delighted to work with them. But aren't there more important factors to consider when you're deciding on a film to direct or act in ... like, for instance, whether the script is any good?
The main problem with Burke and Hare is that it never quite figures out how to turn a true story of mass murder into a comic romp about a pair of loveable rogues. It starts promisingly enough, with the Northern Irish anti-heroes trying to scam a living on the streets of Auld Reekie. Hare's wife (Hynes) runs a boarding house, and when one of the lodgers dies, they sell the body to a preening surgeon, Dr Knox (Wilkinson), who needs a steady supply of cadavers for his anatomy classes.
But if Hare (Serkis) is sure of what to do next, the film definitely isn't, so it drifts away from Burke and Hare's killing spree, and towards, well, more or less everyone else in Edinburgh. Principally, there's Burke's love interest, Isla Fisher, putting on a not-too-painful Scottish accent as a showgirl who plans to stage an all-female production of Macbeth. But there's also a crime boss (David Hayman) who demands 50 per cent of the duo's ill-gotten gains, a surgeon (Tim Curry) who hates Dr Knox, and various other characters who don't serve much of a purpose – and that's even before we get to cameos by William Wordsworth and an anachronistic Greyfriars Bobby.
The screenplay is by Piers Ashworth and Nick Moorcroft, the writers of the recent St Trinian's movies, and they've taken a similar chuck-everything-at-the-wall-and-see-what-sticks approach. But in among all of the many guest stars and sub-plots, it's hard to see what the film is actually about. The Burke and Hare we're shown aren't particularly villainous, but they're not heroic, either.
Their misdeeds aren't particularly hilarious, but nor are they very scary. The idea seems to be that because they're cheery fellows played by likeable actors, we'll care about them no matter what they do. And, to be fair, that's sometimes enough. The gleeful grisliness makes for some funny moments, and there's a nicely spooky Halloween atmosphere, due to the location shooting and the ever-present smoke machine. Burke & Hare is best described as a Carry On film, without the rude puns. But then, what is a Carry On film without the rude puns?
There are more laughs in Out of the Ashes, which is not what you might expect of a documentary based on Afghanistan. Its heroes are the newly formed Afghanistan cricket team, as it battles to reach the big leagues with fewer resources and less experience than your average British primary school. The film is an optimistic charmer, although instead of telling us much about the team's background and training methods, it prefers to concentrate on Borat-like scenes of the aliens abroad, wandering around Jersey in bafflement. "Is that a dog," asks one of them. "I think it's a bear."
Nicholas Barber sees the director of the The Hangover go from weddings to births in his new comedy, Due Date
Also Showing: 31/10/2010
Involuntary (98 mins, 15)
Deadpan Swedish comedy that cuts between vignettes, each concerning the disastrous lengths people will go to avoid making a scene in public. You have to wait a while for the situations to unfold, but when they do they're worthy of Curb Your Enthusiasm.
The Hunter (92 mins, 15)
Elliptical Iranian drama. The first third shows us the life and work of a saturnine nightwatchman (writer-director Ravi Pitts); the second drops him into a dark urban thriller; and the final third is a black comedy about police corruption. Perplexing.
This Prison Where I Live (90 mins)
Documentary about Zarganar, a Burmese comedian who's currently serving a 35-year jail sentence for joking about the regime. Shame about the hour of tedious padding involving a German comedian's trip to Burma.
Arts & Ents blogs
What a wonderful way to end this momentous series in the 50th year of Doctor Who. From the start of ...
Let's talk book blurbs, those quotes you get, usually from other writers, that are meant to entice y...
Fela Kuti, Jewish food and The Great Gatsby are just some of the reasons why the rainy weather ahead...
- 1 Stoke City investigate 'religious abuse' after 'pig's head is found in Kenwyne Jones' locker'
- 2 Gove’s lesson: spare the comma, spoil the child
- 3 You thought Ryanair's attendants had it bad? Wait 'til you hear about their pilots
- 4 Join Ryanair! See the world! But we'll only pay you for nine months a year
- 5 It’s official: thanks to Stephen Hawking's Israel boycott, anti-Semitism is no more
BMF is the UK’s biggest and best loved outdoor fitness classes
Find out what The Independent's resident travel expert has to say about one of the most beautiful small cities in the world
Win anything from gadgets to five-star holidays on our competitions and offers page.