Review: Death at a Funeral
PLOT: When the patriarch of a large family dies, the oldest son (Chris Rock), is charged with reuniting his estranged family for the funeral, which runs comically awry.
REVIEW: DEATH AT A FUNERAL is a scene-for-scene remake of an identically titled British comedy, directed by American Frank Oz, that came out three years ago. That film was a rather charming British import that never really caught on in the US, but was a blockbuster in Europe. It's already been remade as a Bollywood musical (called DADDY COOL), and now it's getting an American remake, which changes the race and nationality of most of the characters, but nothing else.
As far as remakes go, DEATH AT A FUNERAL's really not that bad. Luckily, director Neil LaBute (who was once an art-house auteur, but has now gone super-mainstream with this, and his last film, LAKEVIEW TERRACE) has managed to assemble a top notch comic cast, led by the one and only Chris Rock.
Rock, as the dutiful oldest son, essentially plays the straight-man to all the madness surrounding him. It's nice to see Chris Rock (who has an admittedly spotty track record in films) in a good, raunchy, R-rated comedy, and while he probably has one of the less colourful roles, he gets a couple of great lines, especially once Peter Dinklage (re-creating the same role he played in the British version) enters the fray as his dead father's secret gay lover. Dinklage is about as funny here as he was in the first film, although he's a maybe a shade less effeminate than he was in the original film, but just as outrageous. It would be interesting to compare the two roles side by side, as it's unusual for an actor to be allowed to play the exact same part twice in two separate films.
Supporting Rock is Martin Lawrence as his irresponsible, younger brother. Of everyone, Lawrence is easily the most bland, with him constantly being overshadowed by the rest of the cast, especially James Marsden, who plays the role memorably played by FIREFLY's Alan Tudyk in the original. Here, Marsden gets to play opposite the gorgeous Zoe Saldana, who plays a family cousin introducing her new, white fiancée Marsden, to her disapproving father, ironically played by another FIREFLY alum, Ron Glass. To calm the nervous Marsden down, Saldana gives him a Valium she finds in her pharmacologist brother's (her LOSERS co-star Columbus Short) apartment, which happens to be an insanely powerful hallucinogenic, that sends the hapless Marsden into a drug-fueled delirium, ending with him naked and suicidal on the family roof.
Other than Marsden, the big standout here has to be Danny Glover as the cantankerous old uncle, left in the care of Tracy Morgan. If you've ever wondered what Danny Glover taking a dump on Tracy Morgan's hand would look like, than this is the film for you. Glover's VERY funny in the role, and his final scene has the audience at the preview screening in hysterics. Morgan also fares well, or at least a whole lot better than he did in COP OUT. Rounding out the cast is Luke Wilson as Saldana's former flame/ Morgan's best friend, and Regina Hall as Rock's faithful (and easily the sanest person in the film) wife.
If I hadn't already scene the original British version of DEATH AT A FUNERAL, I'd probably say this was a top-notch comedy. Alas, I've got to deduct points for the fact that ALL the best gags are just lifted from the original film. Still, this remake turned out a lot better than I expected it would, thanks to energetic direction from LaBute (anyone unsure of whether he can direct comedy only needs to rent his WICKER MAN remake - ZING!!!), and the fantastic ensemble cast. It's a fun film worth seeing if you haven't caught the original, and even if you had it's still good for a chuckle.
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