DEATH AT A FUNERAL
Starring Chris Rock, Martin Lawrence
Directed by Neil Labute
It’s been three years since the British comedy Death at a Funeral brought family dysfunction and farce across the pond. Apparently, the movie’s short run whet the appetites of American movie honchos, who pushed it to the top of their “let’s remake it so we don’t have to come up with new shit” pile.
Hence, 2010’s Death at a Funeral, which stays somewhat faithful to its source material (same plot, script, and little person provocateur in the form of actor Peter Dinklage), but forsakes the original’s dry humour in favour of dialing up the sass. The action now focuses on a middle-class African-American family in L.A. reunited by the death of the family patriarch. The deceased’s sons, Aaron (Chris Rock) and Ryan (Martin Lawrence), are trying to host the funeral amidst a severe case of sibling rivalry. Ryan’s been living the high life as a best-selling author in New York, while Aaron’s been living at home with his parents and wife, working as a tax accountant and writing a book he won’t show anyone.
But the family dysfunction doesn’t end there. Cousin Elaine (Zoe Saldana) accidentally gives her nervous boyfriend, Oscar (James Marsden), acid instead of Valium. Crotchety Uncle Russell (Danny Glover) verbally abuses everyone, particularly stray family friends like the paranoid Norman (Tracey Morgan) and Derek (Luke Wilson), who once dated Elaine and wants her back. Finally, interloper Frank (Dinklage, who returns to the role he played in the original 2007 film) arrives and threatens to reveal a huge secret about the dead man unless his sons cough up $30,000.
Morgan does his somewhat enjoyable manic-rant thing, Lawrence sleazes and smarms appropriately, but Wilson, looking bloated and bored, is woefully miscast. Marsden has the most fun, and gets the most laughs, but the one surprise here is Rock, who delivers a performance that hints at a previously unexplored vulnerable side.
Director Neil LaBute, famed for writing and directing mostly caustic character studies (The Shape of Things, Your Friends and Neighbours), seems an odd choice to be at the helm, and sadly he doesn’t do much to distinguish this Funeral from its predecessor. Instead, he settles for (and we’re stuck with) yet another pointless-but-not-unpleasant remake. — Andrea Warner