Black Comedy 

Jack Black plays Bernie, everybody's favorite singing, murdering mortician

click to enlarge Don't let that smile fool you, Bernie is a total downer.

Don't let that smile fool you, Bernie is a total downer.

Bernie, the only-in-Texas true tale of a mortician who steals from a rich bitch (after promptly stuffing her body into a meat freezer) and gives to the poor, is devoid of a pulse. In spite of an impressive cast led by Jack Black, Shirley MacLaine and Matthew McConaughey, the film's trying-too-hard-to-please awkwardness kills the story, ending in a film that's as stiff as a cadaver.

Black plays funeral director Bernie Tiede, the Carthage, Texas, semi-legend who befriended the wealthiest widow in town, Marjorie Nugent (MacLaine).

"Her nose was so high, she'd drown in a rainstorm," says one of the townsfolk.

In her absence, Bernie used Marjorie's fortune to transform Carthage into an idyllic hamlet, complete with a lovely Main Street, boutiques, vibrant mom-and-pop businesses and a new church. All the while, Bernie continued to live a modest life, but his Robin Hood-esque efforts came to an end when the local sheriff found what remained of Marjorie tucked beneath the Swanson frozen dinners in her ice chest.

[ Video is no longer available. ]

In 1998, Skip Hollandsworth wrote an amazing article about Bernie and Marjorie in Texas Monthly Magazine. Unfortunately, Hollandsworth's script, based on his own story, is surprisingly dull. What could have been a much more engaging bit of macabre, instead turns into a forgettable puddle of sentimentality.

Black, who usually imbues his characters with his own version of black comedy, is a showboat of talent and Bernie--a gospel singing, effeminate optimist--seemed tailor-made for him. Black should have slipped into the role like a pair of comfortable cowboy boots, but the film's fits and starts never allow Black to unleash the farce buried beneath the reality. Instead, we settle for something resembling a bizarre episode of NBC's Dateline. It's too bad. All the ingredients were there but the end result flatlines.


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