Sure mild-mannered loan manager Sheldon Kasner (Rob LaBelle) has impulsively stolen $2 million from his Jewish Mafia bosses at the Hebrew National Bank and now needs to go underground, but maybe he’s being a little too literal about it. Sheldon, you see, is attempting to join the Chevrah Kadisha, the ultra-secretive burial society responsible for preparing dead bodies for a proper Jewish burial. (“Underground,” get it? And I thought that up all by myself!)
Although elderly members Marvin (Jan Rubes), Hy (Allan Rich) and Harry (Bill Meilen) are perplexed by Sheldon’s intense desire to join their society and are skeptical, if sympathetic, about his not-entirely accurate explanation of his crime, they nonetheless reluctantly agree to admit him. As the kindly old gents share their ancient knowledge with Sheldon, we see the making of the unlikely con artist’s devious plan to fool Mafia overlord Sam Goldberg (Seymour Cassel) and escape with the money.
Yet, coincidence or not, Sheldon’s well-devised plans begin to come undone once his nosey brother Morry (David Paymer) starts snooping around. Soon, in Sheldon’s strange new world where even death and burial aren’t always as absolute as they appear, the hapless would-be money launderer learns that nearly everyone is out to take him to the cleaners.
The appeal of “The Burial Society” lays in its unusual and obscure take on an otherwise mundane tale of greed, treachery and double-cross. Aided, no doubt, by director Nicholas Racz’s non-linear, vaguely “Rashomon”-ish storytelling, this film briskly hits its marks. As a result, although the viewer gradually gleans that Sheldon is possibly being played about half way through the film, “The Burial Society” remains entertaining enough that the audience sticks with it and is willing to accept virtually any twist ending that Racz comes up with. Much of the credit must go as well to a strong cast, headed up by LaBelle’s surprisingly charismatic performance as the outwitted, if ultimately liberated fall guy Sheldon.
There’s too much reliance here on TV/radio/newspaper headline plot exposition and maybe a few too many narrative leaps of faith, but this is an engaging dark comedy nonetheless. Here’s hoping “The Burial Society” doesn’t get buried in distribution hell for long.