A remake of the 2007 British version, Neil LaBute’s Death at a Funeral is nearly a scene-by-scene, joke-by-joke redo of the same script by Dean Craig. Other than relocating the hjinks to Los Angeles and recasting the family as African-American, the two farces are almost identical. Thus, as a mirror image of an occasionally amusing black comedy, LaBute’s rendition is entertaining enough by default.
Producer and star Chris Rock plays Aaron, the dutiful master of ceremonies at his father’s funeral and the first familiar face in a star-studded ensemble cast. A much better stand-up than he is an actor, the usually charismatic comedian lands very few punchlines and struggles to express any emotion even as the morbid, wacky situations are escalating around him.
Instead, much of the laughs come from James Marsden‘s Oscar, the nervous boyfriend of Elaine (Zoe Saldana), who pops a few Valium to relax, only to find out they’re hallucinogenics. It’s a goofy, overused premise, but Marsden’s wild, rubber-faced antics at the somber event earn the most laughter, especially when he winds up nude on the roof.
Martin Lawrence plays another one of his arrogant characters as Aaron’s brother, Ryan, an accomplished author in New York City. It’s clear Ryan is a writer because the point is belabored by every family member mentioning his books and a jealous Aaron over-referencing the only defining characteristic. Naturally, the brothers’ dragging conversations constantly veer into this uninteresting feud, a vortex of unfunny swirling at the heart of the film.
“30 Rock” star Tracy Morgan scores a few chuckles by adlibbing as his usual self, but is quickly relegated to scatological humor involving the grumpy uncle, played Danny Glover who actually utters his famous phrase, “I’m too old for this shit.” What dignity? As a friend of the family trying to reignite an old flame with Elaine, Luke Wilson is such a non-factor that I often forgot he was a cast member.
Peter Dinklage reprises his role as the uninvited little person who causes a stir with his confession. It’s a funny part but, again, he’s had some practice with those same lines.
The screwball situations in Death at a Funeral are comical at times, but LaBute poorly manages the chaos and as a result the pace sags to a close. It’s a shame a second pass at Craig’s script only three years later didn’t warrant a funnier film or fix any of the problems with the original.
2.5 out of 5.