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I’ve always thought Jack Black was a versatile actor. He proves it here.

It’s a small rural town in Texas and an assistant funeral director – Bernie Tiede – is perhaps the most beloved funeral director in the history of the profession. He’s not just trying to up-sell you a more expensive casket…he really does seem to care about the grieving family. Or so it would appear. We never really figure out what’s under the surface in this [Jack] black comedy from School of Rock director Richard Linklater (who also worked with Matthew McConaughey previously in the equally overrated Dazed & Confused).

Linklater is a Texan and is probably thrilled he got to tackle this bizarre true story. I would’ve preferred seeing this interesting cast of characters in the hands of the Coen brothers.

Bernie befriends Marjorie Nugent – who must be a Nugent, she has taxidermy mounts all along the walls.

She’s an affluent widow that everyone in the town hates. The audience laughs as Bernie befriends her, because we’re sure he has ulterior motives. I couldn’t help but think of Zsa Zsa Gabor and Martha Raye.

Yet, it’s not like Bernie is just living the sweet life off her money. He seems to like giving everybody in the town nice gifts, too.

I don’t suppose I need to give a “spoiler alert” when the commercials show you what happened; or you could easily Google about this case from the ‘90s. Bernie shoots and kills her with what he calls the “armadillo gun.” It’s one of the few times I laughed in the movie, which is strange, because the audience couldn’t stop laughing. I’m not sure why, as many of the things they were laughing at weren’t intended to be funny.

Sure, you smile when the townsfolk comment on the various characters involved. I just don’t think people realize that when Black is singing, it’s not supposed to be funny. They are just showing the various activities he’s involved in. The guy can sing. Remember him tackling Marvin Gaye in High Fidelity, or the Tenacious D records? Audiences just can’t let actors get away from their previous work I suppose.

For example, the audience was just assuming they’d hate the district attorney, played well by Matthew McConaughey. Yet when confronted by an old woman in a grocery store who insists she’ll vote “not guilty” if on the jury, he turns around and asks “How would you feel if you were shot in the back four times and we didn’t try hard to prosecute?”

It’s a good point.

And speaking of McConaughey, I was watching the credits at the end to see if those were actors or real East Texas residents commenting on the crime. One beautiful white haired woman turned out to be his mother.

You want to root for Bernie in this. After all, it’s not like he’s buying a new leer jet with her money (although he does like to fly). He’s spending it on the town. The problem is, at the end of the day, anybody with a rational brain has to agree he’s a murderer (who confessed to the crime), and no matter how much we hated Nugent…he could’ve just quit working for her and being her slave.

If this is going to be a dark comedy, you need to have jokes written when we see them on a cruise, or wearing King Tut outfits to a ball, or having bad Mexican food. Instead, those scenes just make us think how pathetic both characters actually are.

You can pull off both sets of emotions as Jim Carey did in I Love You Phillip Morris. This is a career criminal, who was in love with Ewan McGregor…but we laughed at his bizarre antics and schemes. You can see Shirley MacLaine playing this character in, well…every movie she’s done in the last 20 years. It reminded me most of Guarding Tess with Nic Cage. Rent those movies instead, and save $10 bucks.

This gets 2 out of 5 stars.

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