'Death At A Funeral,' And Mayhem In Its Wake

Chris Rock

Control Issues: Aaron (Chris Rock) is the unlucky son charged with organizing his dad's funeral — which ends up being a circus of missteps, secrets and snafus that make for a one-of-a-kind sendoff. Phil Bray hide caption

itoggle caption Phil Bray

Death At A Funeral

  • Director: Neil LaBute
  • Genre: Comedy
  • Running Time: 90 minutes
Rated R for language, drug content and some sexual humor.

With: Chris Rock, Regina Hall, Danny Glover, Peter Dinklage, Loretta Devine, Luke Wilson

Long, long ago in a galaxy far, far away — well, in 2007 in the United Kingdom — a film called Death at a Funeral reveled in some of the stranger things that might happen at a funeral service. The essential source of humor was the jarring contrast between proper old Britain and its decidedly less proper younger generation.

The Brit stuff is gone from the remake, which is set in L.A. and features a mostly African-American cast. Yet the new movie is remarkably like its predecessor. The two films even share their scripter, Dean Craig, and a crucial cast member, Peter Dinklage. There are some new jokes, a few of them funnier than those in Craig's earlier screenplay. But this Death is virtually a scene-by-scene reconstruction of the original; anyone expecting producer-star Chris Rock and director Neil LaBute to recast the material will be disappointed — and probably bored.

The movie is set in and around one of those pseudo-European manses that shouldn't be in Southern California, but is. Inside, Aaron (Rock) awaits the mourners for his father's funeral, along with his squabbling wife (Regina Hall) and mother (Loretta Devine).

The most celebrated of the expected arrivals is Aaron's younger brother Ryan (Martin Lawrence), a successful author of down-market novels. The most disruptive is Oscar (The X-Men's James Marsden), the white fiance of cousin Elaine (Avatar's Zoe Saldana). Oscar is nervous about meeting Elaine's disapproving father, so she slips him a pill from the collection of her drug-formulating brother (Columbus Short). It turns out to be not a sedative, but a heavy-duty hallucinogen.

Regina Hall

All In The Timing: Aaron's wife, Michelle (Regina Hall), is ready to get started on the family's next generation — and the fact that she's ovulating on the day of her father-in-law's funeral turns out to be one more in a long list of distractions for her hapless husband. Phil Bray hide caption

itoggle caption Phil Bray

Also present are a whiny, hypochondriac family friend (Tracy Morgan); Elaine's needy ex (Luke Wilson); and a cranky uncle (Danny Glover) whose wheelchair is rushed into the bathroom for the movie's gamiest moment.

And then there's Frank (Dinklage), who brings unwelcome news and makes a troublesome demand. The small-statured interloper is at the center of numerous slapstick situations, and as in the original, Dinklage's understated comic takes are funnier than the incongruity of his height.

The other notable performance comes from Marsden, whose stoned reactions to trees, roofs and garden gnomes are gently hilarious. Relying more on physical humor than oh-wow dialogue, the actor makes Oscar both comic and sympathetic.

Other players contend with roles that are beneath or beyond them: Glover is wasted as the malicious old man, and Rock struggles to deliver simple lines. Despite years in the movies, he remains a comedian, not an actor.

The second time around, Death at a Funeral demonstrates just how cleverly constructed Craig's script was. It's old-fashioned and predictable, but as sturdy as a classic well-made farce. Perhaps that's why LaBute, a man of the theater, was hired to direct.

The original was a little sharper, with actual satirical swipes at modern British life. The remake replaces some of that material with lazy pop-culture gags, most of them specifically African-American. But there'll always be an England at the heart of this burlesque — however many times it gets remodeled.

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