Death at a Funeral review

Chris Rock is the instigator of this US remake of the 2007 comedy. He felt its white British sensibilities could be well tailored for an American black audience, and on the whole he's right. It's smoothly done and draws some good laughs. This is partly because the story and structure are exactly the same as the original. Indeed, in a few instances, even the dialogue is identical. But then it does have the same screenwriter, Dean Craig, and he's been allowed to keep the same gags in.

Rock plays the beleaguered tax accountant Aaron, who has to organise his father's funeral. On the day of this sad event he's having to contend with his wife Michelle (Hall) who is desperate to be impregnated and his snide mother (Devine) who is overly critical at their failure to so far produce children. His younger brother, Ryan (Lawrence), a successful novelist with a roving eye, has flown over from the West Coast expecting to do the eulogy. The various funeral guests start to turn up at the house including his cousin, gorgeous Elaine (Saldana), accompanied by her straight-laced fiance Oscar (Marsden). En route they stop off to pick up her brother Jeff (Short) and Oscar inadvertantly takes a hard acidy mescaline-type pill to calm his nerves about meeting his bride-to-be's family again, thinking that it's a valium. Consequently he gets stoned off his tits and causes mayhem later when Aaron is trying to deliver his speech. Also turning up are excitable family friend Norman (Morgan) who's had to bring grumpy Uncle Russell ("I'm too old for this shit" Glover) and slimy Derek (Wilson) who believes he can sleazily woo Elaine again. Causing the biggest upset however is diminutive Frank (Dinklage) who has had a homosexual relationship with the deceased father and is there to seek $30,000 in hush money. When the brothers think he's been accidentally killed and stash him in the coffin, they get one hell of a surprise.

As you can see from the scenario, it doesn't deviate from the Frank Oz movie of three years ago. Whereas that had a cosier setting with the buttoned up Brits reacting with painful horror while trying to maintain stiff upper lipped restraint at the ensuing calamities, Neil Labute's reboot is much looser with a grander milieu and more improvised riffs going on. The ensemble cast work extremely well together and there's an unforced energy to the proceedings that keep the laughs coming.

But if, like me, you're a fan of the original – I thought it was uproarious, one of the funniest movies I've ever seen – you won't appreciate this new take quite so much. Partly it's because the surprise is gone – the comic beats are all there but this time you know when they're coming. Also, I'm not the target audience as such for the humour of this new version. They've done a good job at recreating it for a new audience but I simply wasn't amused as much – Alan Tudyk, for example, was priceless as the stoned victim in the original, but Marsden here, though filling the role perfectly well, never reaches the same level of hilarity. That can be said for the film as a whole. It's efficiently made but is merely chucklesome – as opposed to Oz's movie, which was utterly hysterical. 

Official Site
Death at a Funeral at IMDb

Stuart O'Connor is the Managing Editor of Screenjabber, the movie review website he co-founded with Neil Davey far too many years ago. He likes all genres, as long as the film is good (although he does enjoy the occasional bad "guilty pleasure"), and drinks way too much coffee.

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