PHIL BRAY / SCREEN GEMS
“Death at a Funeral:” C
The new “Death at a Funeral” film is the perfect example of America taking wry British humor and royally screwing it up. While it’s not the worst comedy of the year, “Death” was a remake that had no business being created in the first place, and what’s worse is that the script was written by the man who created the original, Dean Craig.
The film is an ensemble piece centering around the story of one man, Aaron (Chris Rock). After Aaron’s father passes away, friends and family gather at his home for the funeral. Aaron’s younger brother Ryan (Martin Lawrence) flies in from New York to pay his condolences, much to Aaron’s aggravation. Ryan was always the gifted child, a talented writer and an irresponsible younger brother — something that Aaron cannot quite get over. In addition, Aaron keeps getting into trouble with his wife Michelle (Regina Hall) because his mother is always pressuring her to have children. For Aaron, the stress piles on when he decides to give the eulogy, but is discouraged because everyone would rather have Ryan do it.
While this is going on, Aaron’s cousins Jeff (Columbus Short) and Elaine (Zoe Saldana) are on their way to the funeral as well. Elaine and her boyfriend Oscar (James Marsden) stop by to pick Jeff up from his home. But Oscar is worried about meeting Elaine’s parents, to the point where he’s hyperventilating. In an act to relieve his stress, Elaine takes some Valium pills from Jeff in order to calm Oscar down. Much to her surprise, the pills are actually powerful hallucinogens whipped up by Jeff as an experiment.
Also attending the funeral are friends of the family, Derek (Luke Wilson) and Norman (Tracy Morgan). Derek has a thing for Elaine and ditches Norman early on to pursue her. Meanwhile, Norman has to take care of the irritable and wheelchair-bound Uncle Russell (Danny Glover) who only heightens Norman’s paranoia and hypochondriac tendencies.
In the midst of all the grief and stress is Frank (Peter Dinklage). No one at the funeral knows him, but Frank soon makes it clear to Aaron why he’s there — blackmail. Frank was Aaron’s father’s lover, and after being left out of the will, he decides to take matters into his own hands. Unless Aaron and Ryan give him $30,000, Frank threatens to tell everyone who he is, in addition to revealing incriminating pictures of the father.
All of the interconnected stories work well together to make the film’s plotline interesting enough. However, not everyone is on top of their comedy game. Rock’s acting is fantastic as the grieving older brother who is merely trying to cope with the madness around him. But the one-liners and cheesy jokes he delivers fall flat, the sarcasm not melding well with his over-the-top comedic style. Morgan also reeled it in for the role, playing Norman to a tee. Only once or twice did he let his personality burst through, letting audiences know that Tracy Morgan is still there, underneath the persona of Norman, the paranoid loser.
Even though Lawrence is a seasoned comedian, his role is by far the least funny of the film. There are one or two moments of shining brilliance, but other than that, Lawrence is entirely unconvincing as a suave, arrogant and New York City-bred writer.
The performance that provides most of the laughs for the film is Marsden’s, who is tripping on hallucinogenics throughout the entirety of the movie. His antics, like talking to statues, randomly singing “Amazing Grace” and the distorted expressions he makes are hilarious and add to the frenzied nature of the film.
Danny Glover’s character is also a stitch as the insensitive, sexist and grumpy uncle who strikes fear into all of his nieces and nephews. It is his brutally honest and sometimes evil comments that give a crude tone to the film, but keep the audiences rolling with laughter. In addition, Kevin Hart’s small appearance on screen at the beginning of the film as the blundering, but confident funeral director is the high point, as nearly everything he says is uproariously funny.
But even with all the hoopla and the magnificent cast, this far-fetched comedy is mediocre at best. The cheesy jokes and poorly delivered one-liners keep the film from achieving its potential. This is one remake that really should have stayed in the grave.
“Death at a Funeral” is in theaters now.