DEATH AT A FUNERAL
**** (out of 5)
April 16, 2010
Chris Rock as AARON
Martin Lawrence as RYAN
Zoe Saldana as ELAINE
Tracy Morgan as NORMAN
James Marsden as OSCAR
Peter Dinklage as FRANK
Studio: Screen Gems
Directed by: Neil LaBute
BY KEVIN CARR
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A year or so ago when I heard that someone was remaking the 2007 British comedy “Death at a Funeral,” I thought it was possibly the stupidest idea I had heard since the idea to remake “Psycho.” I know this was a foreign film, but the foreign country it came from was England… and it was, in fact, in English.
So going into the 2010 remake “Death at a Funeral,” I was very skeptical.
The film is updated for an American audience with some cultural references and a primarily African-American cast. In fact, this is a veritable who’s who of black actors working today, including Chris Rock, Martin Lawrence, Tracy Morgan, Zoe Saldana, Danny Glover and Regina Hall. The story follows a grieving family after the death of their patriarch. During the funeral, the dysfunction erupts into plenty of slapstick shenanigans, including accidental drug tripping, sex scandals and a possible murder.
Die-hard fans of Frank Oz’s 2007 version might gripe at this film for how closely it follows their beloved original, and it does. There is a certain part of me that notices the same jokes timed out almost to the same pace. But there’s a spark to this version that really make it work.
Directed by Neil LaBute, who gave us the relatively hip “In the Company of Men” but also was responsible for the wretched “The Wicker Man” and “Lakeview Terrace,” manages to deliver a well-paced, generous comedy that doesn’t bog down and rarely stalls.
A lot of what makes this film work is the cast and how they fit together. Each actor plays to his or her strengths and don’t hog the spotlight from the others. Chris Rock plays the subdued straight man while the normally unfunny and annoying Tracy Morgan is used just enough to get the laughs rolling. Morgan is the centerpiece to one of the film’s funniest moments, which you might just hate yourself for enjoying, but you’ll laugh anyway.
Still, like the original film, the scene stealers come from James Marsden who plays the accidentally drugged boyfriend (originally played by Alan Tudyk). After many years as just a pretty boy, Marsden has come on strong recently as a brilliant comedic actor in films like “Enchanted” and “Sex Drive.” He continues his streak and is one of the most entertaining parts of “Death at a Funeral.”
Likewise, Peter Dinklage is another gem in the cast. Reprising his role as a blackmailing mourner, Dinklage uses his considerable acting talent to bounce off the other comedians for some of the most outrageous and ridiculous moments of the film.
I can’t say that “Death at a Funeral” is a perfect film. I can’t even say that it was entirely necessary. But it is damn entertaining.