Richard Linklater establishes just the right tone for this East Texas story, a tall tale that turns out to be pretty much true. Jack Black is Bernie, the mortician who shows up in town with a sweet manner & a knack for touching up cadavers. Soon, he’s the town’s favorite ‘go-to’ guy, with a strong voice for every occasion from church to community theater and a special way with the blue-haired ladies. Why even crotchety old Shirley MacLaine, the nastiest (and richest) widow in town succumbs. But there are limits even to Bernie’s tender mercies . . . and a shotgun in the garage. Linklater & scripter Skip Hollander, adapting his own magazine piece, use a pseudo-documentary style, with lots of delicious asides from real-life locals, and never push for laughs at anyone’s expense. These little interviews actually make up the richest part of the movie, especially a brief lecture on the unique characteristics of the six regions of Texas. Priceless. Only Matthew McConaughey disappoints, overplaying wildly as a Good Ol’ Boy prosecutor, though he does get a neat bit of character hair styling. It’s a bit like one those old British comedies from the Ealing Studios, but with Texan eccentrics in the roles Alec Guinness might have played. Fun as it is, when it wraps up, you kind of imagine what a swell magazine article it might make.
SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: There were thirty producers on this little film. 30! With a negative cost near 6 mill and a measly gross of 9, it’s a perfect set-up for a remake of THE PRODUCERS/’68.