Mark Reviews Movies


2 ½ Stars (out of 4)

Director: Neil LaBute

Cast: Chris Rock, Martin Lawrence, Regina Hall, Tracy Morgan, Zoë Saldaña, James Marsden, Columbus Short, Luke Wilson, Peter Dinklage, Loretta Devine, Danny Glover, Ron Glass, Keith David

MPAA Rating: R (for language, drug content and some sexual humor)

Running Time: 1:30

Release Date: 4/16/10

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Review by Mark Dujsik | April 15, 2010

The cast of Death at a Funeral should be commended for nearly pulling off a seemingly impossible task: They make a rehash of an only three-year-old comedy funny in its own ways. The original film, a British comedy of manners mixed with the lower sensibilities of an offensive, American go-for-broke joke-fest, pulled off something similar. The gags there were predictable and the payoffs obvious, but they worked in spite of those qualities because the cast knew how to play them. Screenwriter Dean Craig (returning for the script of the remake) also understood the basics of telling a joke.

Which leads to the problems of this version. The gags are even more predictable this time around, because, well, they've been done in the pretty much the same way with mostly the same results. A lot of the characterizations—simplistic enough already in the first—are even thinner than before. Some of the nuances of the original's setups and payoffs are lost as a result.

In spite of it all, the movie is funny in spurts, mainly when the player dynamics are given full attention.

The setup is the same as before. Aaron (Chris Rock) is preparing for his father's funeral. His brother Ryan (Martin Lawrence), a profitable writer, is flying into town for the first time in a long time. Their mother (Loretta Devine), along with everyone else (including the reverend (Keith David), who only agreed to perform the service for a change to meet the famous author), can't wait to see her younger, more successful son.

No one understands why Aaron is delivering the eulogy, when there's a professional writer in the family. Aaron argues that he's one, too; it's just that he won't let anyone read his novel.

Adding to the pressure, his wife Michelle (Regina Hall) wants to have a baby. As in, she wants to make the baby today.

The rest of the family and friends are introduced on their way to the funeral. Cousin Elaine (Zoë Saldaña) is bringing her fiancé Oscar (James Marsden), whom her father (Ron Glass) hates, and Oscar is appropriately anxious. Fortunately, her brother Jeff (Columbus Short) is a pharmacology student, but unfortunately, the "Valium" she gives her beau is actually a hallucinogenic.

Family friend Norman (Tracy Morgan) is en route with Derek (Luke Wilson), who once dated Elaine. Her father invited him, hoping to give him another chance with his daughter. They have to pick up curmudgeonly Uncle Russell (Danny Glover), who is never, ever happy in any situation except insulting those around him.

One thing Craig does right this time around is to compact the exposition. There's no need for a flow chart to keep track of who's who and what their relationship is to everyone else. That's either because the key players are jammed closer together or there's already prior knowledge of everyone. Either way, the getting to the funeral feels tighter, less of a hassle. Each character now feels like a part of the unit, whereas some in the original felt out-of-place and sometimes needless.

The compression doesn't serve the overall flow too well. Everything feels rushed once the funeral starts, almost as if Craig believes he has to hit each point as quickly as possible.

Still, the cast makes it their own. Rock's does his usual act of seeming outside of the material. Lawrence tries to not be funny but still is. Morgan is somehow panicky and blithe. Glover growls and scowls with clichéd aplomb (even bringing up that's he's getting too old for—everyone knows the rest). Marsden trips the light fantastic with some solid physical comedy.

Standing out in a sturdy crowd is Short, whose comic timing and laid back delivery makes even the simplest punch lines quite funny. Peter Dinklage reprises the part he played in the original, as a mystery man everyone notices but no one recognizes and has a major bombshell to drop to Aaron, adding even more to his already hectic day. His role is unchanged, but the interplay between Rock, Lawrence, Morgan, and Short as they try to solve the problems he continues to raise after partaking in the "Valium" is the best stuff the movie has to offer.

The big gags, the disgusting toilet scene, a naked trip to the roof, the coffin falling and its contents spilling out, and the results of the realization that a funeral might be the best place to hide a body, lose their edge from familiarity. That's the best reason why Death at a Funeral isn't quite a success, although the cast does put forward their best effort.

Copyright © 2010 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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