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Undertaking Betty

List Price: $29.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Scott Weinberg | posted March 30, 2006 | E-mail the Author
The Movie

When a movie sits on a studio shelf for about two years, the attentive movie geeks start to get curious. Either the flick is A) really bad, and therefore worthy of some attention, or B) a piece of buried cinematic treasure, just waiting for a DVD enthusiast to come along and call it an unexpected winner.

And then there's Undertaking Betty (aka Plots with a View), which is just plain ... weird. Boasting an eclectic cast and an offbeat attitude, it's certainly not a terrible little Britcom -- but it is a schizophrenic and intermittently grating affair all the same.

The setting is a picture-perfect Welsh village where middle-aged Betty, doting wife to a jerk-face politician, discovers she harbors romantic feelings for the local mortician. The pair hatch a wacky plan: Together, and with the help of a friendly doctor, they'll fake Betty's death, thereby freeing the gal to hop on a cruise ship and enjoy an overdue delivery of passionate romance with her merry mortician.

Wacky enough already, I know, but I haven't even mentioned the ballroom dance numbers, the incongruous bouts of potty humor, or the arrival of another funeral director who likes to throw big, lavish, and garish funerals for his clientele.

Basically, Undertaking Betty feels like three very distinct styles of comedy wedged into one 90-minute time-slot. One minute we're doe-eyed with the wistful middle-aged lovers, the next we're gaping at some wacky pratfall or sloppy sight gag. Director Nick Hurran (who followed this up with the inert rom-com Little Black Book) clearly knows how to frame a crisp shot and get the most from a picturesque location, but as far as consistent tone and comedic balance, the flick's just all out of whack.

Though kind of a mess, and not really all that funny, Undertaking Betty still feels barely recommendable, thanks to a colorful cast of true characters. Brenda Blethyn and Alfred Molina make a strangely likable duo; Naomi Watts delivers a memorable supporting turn as a sexy, yet stupid, adulteress; Lee Evans and Christopher Walken earn some solid chuckles as the tasteless new morticians in town... Too bad each subplot feels like its own mini-movie, and that things get really broad and silly before the thing ends precisely like you know it will.

The DVD

Video: Anamorphic widescreen (2.35:1), and the gorgeous Welsh countryside looks pretty darn lovely.

Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround.

Extras: There's a 7-minute behind-the-scenes featurette called The Fun in Funeral: The Making of Undertaking Betty, which is just a few movie clips mixed with some typically sunny cast member interviews.

Final Thoughts

The flick feels like Six Feet Under meets Waking Ned Devine written on a 5th-grade reading level -- but hey, how often do you get to see Lee Evans and a funny-wig-wearing Christopher Walken as a pair of villainous morticians who mount a seriously distasteful "Star Trek Funeral"? Not too often, so here's your chance.

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