The Review: John Landis is responsible for some of the finest comedies of the Seventies and early Eighties. Animal House, The Blues Brothers and Trading Places would be a fine legacy for anyone, but then Landis also has horror chops, having unleashed An American Werewolf on London and the world. Somehow, though, Landis seemed to use up all his good creative instincts during that fertile period, and his career ever since has languished in mediocrity. Coming To America, over 20 years ago, may be his last even half-decent effort, so maybe it makes sense in that context to make something that’s both horror and comedy. Sadly, for everyone concerned, what we have ended up with is neither.
It all seemed so promising, especially when Simon Pegg and David Tennant were announced as playing the titular duo. Tennant, of course, departed to be replaced by Andy Serkis, in a move which Tennant must be very grateful for whatever scheduling gods forced his replacement. Pegg is generally good value and Serkis mugs appropriately, but neither feels especially comfortable with the material or, indeed, their accents. Burke and Hare were from Northern Ireland, a fact that’s barely discernible from Serkis’ accent and only slightly more so from Pegg’s.
At least they fare better than the love interest Isla Fisher, who manages to be Dick Van Dyke bad in terms of both accent and performance. There are some gems in the supporting cast, including Tom Wilkinson and Tim Curry as competitors in medicine (and in a much more interesting movie) and Jessica Hynes, who seems to be about the only person to have correctly captured the broad tone that Landis was aiming for as Serkis’ wife. The rest of the cast is also filled with “ooh, is that…?” faces of varying familiarity; the tragedy is that the game of spot-the-random-famous-face quickly becomes more interesting than the actual movie.
It’s not broad enough to be successful as a farce, or funny enough to work as a straight comedy. The story itself would quite happily lend to straight horror, but sadly the gruesome moments feel like flicking between a horror marathon and CBeebies, so oddly juxtaposed and ill-considered are they against the rest of the piece; and critically, there’s really not enough of them. On top of all that, the liberties with the truth are so extensive that only one major character actually has their real life fate bestowed upon them, and the alternate fates conjured up for the rest don’t feel anywhere interesting enough to justify the changes. Somewhere in here there was a great movie trying to get out, but sadly all that’s left is for future film scholars to pore over this one’s festering corpse and ponder where it all went wrong.
Why see it at the cinema: If you like to see some of the greatest talent of British film today, plus Ronnie Corbett, dying slowly on their backsides, then this is the film for you.
The Score: 4/10