Sunday, April 25, 2010

DEATH AT A FUNERAL (2010)

Written by Dean Craig


Directed by Neil LaBute


Where & When: Arclight Cinemas, Hollywood, CA. April 24, 2010 9:20PM


The 2007 British comedy, "Death at a Funeral" has been given an American makeover or more accurately, an African-American makeover.

Like the original, it is the story of a family preparing to bury their patriarch. Chris Rock plays Aaron who is making the arrangements for his father's funeral. In between he is trying to comfort his mother (Loretta Devine) while she is pressing her son and his wife (Regina Hall) on when she's going to get a grandchild.

Aaron's younger brother Ryan, (Martin Lawrence) a successful writer of trashy novels, has arrived from New York. There is some rivalry between the brothers because Aaron wanted to be a writer first and has been working on a novel for years that he won't let anyone read but Ryan beat him to it. Everyone expects Ryan to give the eulogy because he is the writer but Aaron feels he should since he is the oldest. I'm not quite sure why they couldn't have both said a few words but for some reason it is important in this story that only one of them speak.

Elaine (Zoe Saldana), who is Aaron's cousin, is picking up her brother, Jeff (Columbus Short) with her boyfriend, Oscar (James Marsden) to attend the service. Oscar is nervous because he knows that Elaine's father (Ron Glass) doesn't care for him so Elaine finds a bottle marked Valium and decides to give one to him to calm him down. They are both unaware that what is actually in the bottle are hallucinogenic drugs that Jeff has made for a friend. These pills will cause more problems at the funeral.

Norman (Tracy Morgan) and Derek (Luke Wilson) who are family friends, have been asked to pick up Uncle Russell (Danny Glover) at a nursing home. Uncle Russell is rude, cranky and just unpleasant to be around and makes a good case for euthanasia. Uncle Russell makes life hell for Norman.

A mysterious short man named Frank (Peter Dinklage)has shown up at the funeral and will reveal a secret with photographic evidence about their father to Aaron and Ryan's mother if they don't pay him $30, 000. Aaron was going to pay Frank but refuses after he insults his book that he read while he was waiting for them to make a decision on the blackmail. Aaron and Ryan tie up the man to stop him until they can figure out what to do about him and his threats. There are more crazy delays, comic disasters and other possible deaths before Aaron is finally able to deliver the eulogy.

This version of "Death at a Funeral" is mildly entertaining and funny at times but I got to the end of this film thinking to myself, "Why was this made?". There was absolutely nothing new or fresh that was added and they followed the original plot line all the way down to the casting of Mr. Dinklage to replay his part from the original film. This film is completely pointless and changing the race of the characters and making them American doesn't improve on the perfectly good English film.

In fact, since the decision to remain so faithful to the first film, Mr. Rock and Mr. Lawrence seemed confined and uncomfortable in their parts and aren't able to bring much of their comic gifts to this. The rest of the large cast is impressive but are wasted in this misguided venture. The standout in this is Mr. Marsden who gives a great performance and is hilarious while we watch him trip out as he hugs statues, hears imaginary voices and finally stripping down to show off his impressive body.

The other question I was asking myself is why is Mr. LaBute directing this film? He is a prolific playwright and the writer/director of such fascinating and divisive works such as "In The Company of Men" (1997), "Your Friends and Neighbors" (1998) and "Nurse Betty" (2000) where he first worked with Mr. Rock. He now feels the need to be a director for hire and that is not at all where his strengths lie. This film, as well as his last few films like, "Lake view Terrace" (2008), seems like it could had made by anybody and he doesn't add his distinctive voice to the project. It really is a shame and I hope he finds his way back to writing another screenplay and directing that instead and leave the mediocre stuff to the army of lesser talents out there.

While the American "Death at a Funeral" is a slightly amusing but unnecessary remake, you would be better off renting the much superior original to get a better idea on why this new version didn't need to be made.