Pulse feeble in 'Just Buried'

JIM SLOTEK - Sun Media

, Last Updated: 4:54 AM ET

I suppose it seems absurd to accuse a funeral-home comedy of being lifeless. But any episode of Six Feet Under had more sharp, mordant wit and freewheeling derangement than you'll find in Just Buried.

I'm chagrined to write that, because we don't make enough comedies in Canada these days, and I want to see us make more. But energy and sparkling wit are conspicuously missing here.

A mordant caper-comedy too in love with its clever plot to bother fleshing out its characters, Just Buried stars Jay Baruchel as Oliver, a nerdlinger with a nosebleed problem who moves out to smalltown Nova Scotia, where he has inherited a funeral home from his estranged father.

This casting is a coup for first-time feature director Chaz Thorne, as the Montreal native Baruchel has become a bit of a celebrity as part of Judd Apatow's rep company since this was filmed (watch for him soon in Tropic Thunder). As a leading man, however, it becomes clear that Baruchel's role with various funny guys may be akin to how Derek Smalls of Spinal Tap assessed himself -- as the lukewarm water between fire and ice.

Certainly, Thorne seems to have a sense of how to use him in that regard. He surrounds the meek, bland Baruchel with off-beat characters -- a nymphomaniacal stepmom (Reagan Pasternak), a "hot" and unpredictable mortician (Aussie actress Rose Byrne), a laconic aboriginal handyman (Graham Greene), etc.

And oh yeah, the clever plot. Seems the funeral home is a dead loss -- having lost out to a flashier and more aggressive competitor across town. Oliver's about to pull the plug on the venture when some romantic confusion leads to an accidental death. The revenue that said victim's funeral pulls in inspires Roberta the mortician and Oliver to take matters into their own hands, and create their own business homicidally, as it were.

Actually, Roberta is the straw that stirs this drink (and Byrne's tightly strung performance is the only one worth singling out). Her sexual favours give Oliver the impetus to carry out his nasty work. Oliver is thus more Little Shop of Horrors-scared-nerd than Sweeney Todd-nasty -- although Thorne gives his character a third-act sea change that is utterly unconvincing.

Meanwhile, the movie becomes Fargo-esque in scenes involving Roberta's father Chief Knickle (Nigel Bennett), who echoes Frances McDormand with his dogged, lone-wolf suspicions and low-key, smalltown sleuthing.

Although comic timing is not Thorne's directorial strong suit, he does stage a couple of the deaths with a bit of flair (one particularly spectacular one involves an old saw about pacemakers that I want to see tested on Mythbusters some day).

But the "surprise" ending is a crock, and it comes at the end of a bunch of twists that pile up on each other awkwardly. Just Buried seems like a movie that could have taken a breath, revelled in its own craziness a lot more, and been much more fun.

(This film is rated 14-A)


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