Watching Bernie, I couldn’t stop thinking of I Love You, Phillip Morris, the ramshackle but vibrant true crime story about a felon who also fools people whom the screenwriters think deserve fooling. As the title character, Jack Black is cute and says his lines slowly like Ernest Borgnine in Marty; he insists on his banality by acting banally. The funeral director, accused of murdering an older consort whom the small town Texans dismiss as a puckered old shrew (an underused Shirley MacLaine), is so smarmy about his charity that there isn’t a single moment of ambiguity. Black doesn’t help. The moment I saw him in his comb-over and Tom DeLay mustache I knew director Richard Linklater wasn’t interested in anything deeper than an SNL sketch (the same trouble afflicted Matt Damon in Soderbergh’s check-out-the-exclamation-point The Informant!). As he’s demonstrated in Dazed and Confused, the Before series, and Me and Orson Welles, Linklater is peerless at using peripheral characters as choruses, commenting on the action without being ridiculed for their provincialism. Almost half the movie he devotes to residents of the Texas town in which Bernie purportedly hoodwinks the lot of them, and they come off as rubes and eccentrics. It’s not Linklater’s fault — the script loves the surface it’s content to glide on. If you cast Shirley MacLaine, the greatest living bullshit detector, give her better material than articulated scowls and mous. With Matthew McConaughey as the district attorney who busts Bernie.