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.
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.