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  Death at a Funeral (2010)

Starring: Chris Rock, Martin Lawrence, Tracy Morgan, Danny Glover

Directed by: Neil LaBute

Produced by: William Horberg, Sidney Kimmel, Laurence Malkin, Chris Rock, Share Stallings
Written by: Dean Craig

Distributor: Screen Gems

     There have been several literal film remakes made in recent years—Gus Van Sant and Michael Haneke’s respective shot-for-shot updates of Psycho and Funny Games spring to mind—but never have I encountered one as unnecessary as the new Death at a Funeral. Essentially a straightforward “blackification” of the 2007 British farce, I could just picture the studio-heads’ financially motivated discussion about green-lighting the movie as I watched it. “Tyler Perry has proven that urban audiences will go for anything starring black actors, so why don’t we put this together quickly and cheaply with as much star-power as possible?” one probably asserted. It’s never a good sign when I find myself contemplating why, God why? a film was made before it’s even over.

     Rotten inception aside, it’s still tough to figure out why Death at a Funeral turned out so downright boring with such a funny cast: Chris Rock, Martin Lawrence, Danny Glover, Tracy Morgan, Luke Wilson, James Marsden… the list goes on. Certainly, many who have not seen the original film (a substantial group) will find the established plot-points amusing and, at times, even hilarious. But the banter filling in the lines is weak and unfunny, which results in long dry patches. For those already familiar with where the story’s headed – forget about it. Watching one copycat revelation after another, I felt as though I was toughing the picture out because, frankly, I’d seen it before.

     That’s a pretty big statement given that Rock looks nothing like Matthew MacFayden, nor Lawrence like Rupert Graves. In fact, it clearly took quite a bit of effort for this Death at a Funeral to resemble its predecessor. After all, the simple story—a family convenes for the funeral of its patriarch and ironic, awkward misadventures ensue—allows for almost unlimited liberties to be taken. As to whether the puzzlingly stringent adherence to the original was the doing of writer Dean Craig (who penned that film as well) or the cast, I won’t make any hasty presumptions. I do think, however, that this creative choice does not show a whole lot of respect for the audience. American moviegoers, particularly the African-American demographic the film is targeted at, must just be too stupid for the very British original, right? In creating this allegedly more mainstream and accessible version, the filmmakers made one of the elitist recent movies. I’m sure just about anyone could “get” the first one already,  no problem.

     As far as the acting goes, it’s OK, I guess – certainly nothing to get worked up over. Rock furthers his interest in playing a mature protagonist at a semi-comedic crisis-point in his life (after I Think I Love My Wife, which he also directed). He doesn’t show off, which is a nice change of pace, but given how sleepy the movie is on the whole, I kind of wish he would’ve launched into one of his trademark standup tirades. Lawrence is, well, Lawrence – not an incredibly gifted actor, but an affable presence. Unfortunately, he isn’t given anything to do, tossed a few throwaway one-liners and left to paint an acceptable character around them. The many supporters are on about the same level, with the exception of, ironically, the two most prominent white actors in the cast. James Marsden’s off-the-wall stab at a soon-to-be in-law who attends the funeral while unknowingly on a hallucinogenic at least rivals—maybe even surpasses—Alan Tudyk’s original. And Peter Dinklage, reprising his role as the deceased’s closet gay lover, is splendid, going even sleazier this time than he did the first.

     But even with a few standouts, this Death at a Funeral is an unmistakable dud. And that’s a shame, not only because of the utterly wasted cast, but because the director is the equally talented Neil LaBute. Perhaps after his failure at a more liberal remake of The Wicker Man, LaBute felt the need to go ultra-conservative this time around. On the bright side, at least he didn’t attempt to make the film different by ghettofying it to further “reach out” to black audiences. It is admittedly refreshing to see an African-American family depicted as wealthy and white-collar here, as they rarely are on film. But ultimately, no welcome representation of diversity can save a picture as boring as this one. Gene Siskel’s line about how he’d rather watch the same actors sharing lunch rarely rings as true as it does with 2010’s Death at a Funeral.


-Danny Baldwin, Bucket Reviews

Review Published on: 4.21.2010


Death at a Funeral is rated R and runs 90 minutes.

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