Death at a Funeral

by | Aug 11th, 2010 | 1:34PM | Filed under: DVD Reviews, Movies

I’d like to high-mindedly note that gratuitous swearing, dwarf wrestling, and someone getting covered in poo are not inherently funny. Except who am I kidding? We all know they are. And thanks to them and a fine cast of clowns, so is this version of Death at a Funeral.

Death at a Funeral is director Neil LaBute’s remake of Frank Oz’s 2007 film. Now I know what you’re thinking, “Really Hollywood? Three whole years between versions?” But you see, while Oz is American (the voice of Miss Piggy, Grover, and Yoda! The director of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, What About Bob?, and Bowfinger!) his film was British. Full of British actors. Acting all British and stuff. Saying “boot” instead of “trunk,” and “lorry” instead of “truck,” and “lift” instead of “elevator,” and putting extra “U”s in all their words. Stupid British. What do they know about comedy and door-slamming farces?

So we have LaBute’s 2010 version, this time set in ‘Merica and featuring a mostly African-American cast. It’s true, LaBute (In the Company of Men, Your Friends and Neighbors, Nurse Betty) may be the last person you think of when you think “African-American film making.” In fact, after the abomination that was the 2006 Wicker Man remake, LaBute may be the last person you think of when you think “competent film maker.”

Luckily LaBute has a solid cast of characters to work with. (Emphasis on “characters” in the old-timey sense, as in “that guy over there with the lampshade on his head.”) Chris Rock centers the rambunctious proceedings as a man trying to give his father a proper send-off, despite everything and everyone else conspiring to turn the funeral into a free-for-all. Martin Lawrence is his more successful author brother, Tracy Morgan (always a force of screw-loose nature) and Luke Wilson are a couple friends with their own agendas (namely skin ailments, winning back ex-girlfriends, and yes, the aforementioned poo), and Danny Glover is the cranky old uncle who swears a lot.

A Coffin-Slamming Farce

Regina Hall, the great Loretta Devine, and Zoe Saldana play the women who have to put up with all the ensuing shenanigans, and Keith David and Ron Glass are equally surly as a minister and the brother of the deceased. Plus, Peter Dinkledge reprises his role as the mysterious, diminutive mourner full of secrets. Best of all, James Marsden gets to pull a series of hilarious faces in the Alan Tudyk role: an earnest school teacher accidentally dosed by Armored’s Columbus Short with a potent pharmacological hit of “acid and acid.” (Between this and 2008’s Sex Drive, it’s a delight to find the stuffy, ramrod “hero man” of the X-Men films is such a fine comic performer.)

That’s a pretty crowded stage, but that’s the point. This is old-fashioned door-slamming farce, or in this case casket-slamming farce—there’s no reason or meaning to it other than to run as many wild and crazy characters through as much comic mayhem as possible. Of course it tends to feel arch and contrived, but that’s the nature of the genre. (Also known as “bedroom farce,” it would include plays like Lend Me a Tenor and Noises Off, films like The Birdcage, and of course every episode of Three’s Company.) I happen to love door-slamming farces–how the best of them juggle so many increasingly ridiculous and interlocking situations, until the comic effect is more than just individual characters or humorous lines, but rather the fact the whole chaotic circus show gets pulled off.

Dying is Easy, Comedy is Hard

Do LaBute and his massive cast pull it all off? Well, as my father would have said, “it’s good enough for the girls we go with.” LaBute is not a naturally loose and rolling director, and it doesn’t help that as brilliant as Chris Rock is as a comedian, he’s still often stiff and jerky as a comic actor. (He does “ya THINK?!” wide-eyed incredulity just fine.) Death at a Funeral ’10 can be choppy, a little start-stop-y, but fortunately enough crap is thrown at the wall (quite literally) by enough genuinely talented performers.

Naw, it’s not better than Oz’s British version—like all things American, it’s brassier, louder, and cruder, while, like all things British, the original plays things slightly (only slightly) more subtly and wryly. But with Rock, Martin, Morgan, and Marsden on hand, plus corpse slapstick, dwarf wrestling, and poo flinging, this new Death at a Funeral gets the job done. Or as my father the funeral director often proclaimed after a tricky internment, “Well, at least we got him in the ground.”

Death at a Funeral is on DVD and available for rental from redbox.

9 Responses to “Death at a Funeral

  1. Sparky
    Posted on August 11, 2010 at 2:05 pm

    In addition to Death & Wedding Week (redundant?)is this also no trivia/games week?

  2. Locke Peterseim
    Locke Peterseim
    Posted on August 11, 2010 at 2:43 pm

    I’ll put up a poster quiz later, but no Tues Threes yesterday because of the Red screening contest.

  3. millar74
    Posted on August 11, 2010 at 3:21 pm

    Glad to hear you say it’s not better than the original. even though i haven’t seen this version (i plan too, it’s built in the afrocentric genetic code) i instintively knew it couldn’t be better. funny yes, better no.

  4. Fiirvoen
    Posted on August 11, 2010 at 4:10 pm

    I was wondering where the Tuesday threes went. Not having it yesterday, I spent most of today thinking it was tuesday and religiously updating my rss feed reader every few minutes. Yes, my life is sad. I can’t get much done with the itching knowledge that a Threes is about to hit. After it’s over, my mind can relax.

  5. Locke Peterseim
    Locke Peterseim
    Posted on August 11, 2010 at 4:36 pm

    So I suppose this isn’t the time to tell all you guys that I was seriously considering putting the Threes on hiatus, huh? But if the Threes are such a shining beacon of hope in everyone’s lives, I’ll keep doing them… for now…

  6. Fiirvoen
    Posted on August 12, 2010 at 7:42 pm

    Why put the threes on hiatus? They’re what keep people coming back for more! The other stuff keeps us here, but the threes is what brings us back every couple of days. It would be marketing suicide to quit them.

  7. morninglight mama
    Posted on August 14, 2010 at 7:09 pm

    My hubby and I just watched this last week and were really quite surprised by how much we were laughing. The “acid and acid” trip made for some seriously funny scenes, and what I expected to be overall a little humorous turned out to be a laugh-filled evening!

  8. Olga
    Posted on August 15, 2010 at 12:06 am

    Worst comedy movie I ever can remember, ,making the worst mock out of African American culture.To all of you Dear African American hard working people with values about life , please they had not done any favor to you.It has happened in the past with Hispanic culture where they have been portrayed as something they are not.Now with this movie is done to the African American culture.Where is the high grade comedy known for by people like Bill Cosby and such gone?

    • Currently 1/5 Stars
    Ray Watson
    Posted on September 3, 2010 at 2:51 pm

    Could not suck enough. Hard to believe all that tallent could not deliver one laugh.