Read our interview with director Neil LaBute.
I had reservations about sitting down to watch Chris Rock, Martin Lawrence and Tracy Morgan put their collective talents together for the big screen remake DEATH AT A FUNERAL. All three comedians have similar styles and humor and all of them command the screen when their doing their schtick. Not only that, but their comedy is usually offset by a “serious” actor like Will Smith or Bruce Willis in order to highlight their comedic styles more efficiently. Knowing that there really were no serious characters in this, I was pessimistic that they could be reined in. So consider me shocked when I found myself enjoying the film and the performances of everyone involved.
The premise is simple enough; Chris Rock is Aaron, one of two brothers that has just lost his father and is in the process of hosting a funeral for him. But nothing is going well and he can’t get help from his more famous brother (Lawrence) or any of the close family friends that are in attendance. To make matters worse, a man (Peter Dinklage) has shown up claiming to be his father’s lover and is trying to extort money from the family. So right off the bat, there’s a lot going on, not to mention subplots with Aaron and his wife and his struggling career.
In fact, everyone has a subplot or two that gets developed as the film goes on. Normally, having so many subplots and so much going on in a short film like this would frustrate me, but in this case, it served it very well. By having so much going on, it reduced the need to have laughs thrown at you every two seconds. Although the laughs are there, this film actually tries to develop some characters and keep the audience interested in the story. Like I said; the three main comedians hold it back a lot and their efforts made for a better film.
The actor that has seemed to get the most credit is James Marsden, who plays a character that accidentally takes a hallucinogenic. That simple character alone provides ample sources for comedy and the irony in the film is that the one actor normally associated with serious, straight-laced characters is the one that gets to cut loose and do whatever he wants to bring a laugh. Marsden does well in the role, but I can’t help but wonder if it would have been funnier if given to a comedian accustomed to going over the top and getting the big laugh.
This was a bit of a pet project for Chris Rock and the one complaint I always have with Rock’s films is his acting. He doesn’t do much better here, but he’s slowly getting better. He just really needs to accept he’s not a good actor and it’s up to his director to help him. Basically, any time Chris isn’t talking, the camera should be somewhere else. He just doesn’t do very well when he’s not talking. Tracy Morgan is another actor that takes flack for just rehashing his ’30 Rock’ character, but it works and here again, he made me laugh.
Overall, I think this film will surprise a lot of people. It was funny, interesting and the cast worked extremely well together. Just about everyone involved was responsible for one or two laughs and the film worked. It had some slow moments and failed to live up to its potential at times, but overall I enjoyed myself.
Video: Shot completely digital, this transfer is beautiful. In a movie void of a lot of color (it took place at a funeral, remember), the colors and black levels were stunning.
Audio: The sound was also wonderful, although given this is a dialogue heavy film, surround channels weren’t heavily utilized.
Commentary with Neil LaBute and Chris Rock: Some comedians are just naturally funny and can’t help but make you laugh every time they talk and some comedians are funny only when they really try to be. I think Chris Rock falls into the latter category. On this track, he and Neil provide a few laughs here and there, but this is a pretty normal commentary with them talking more about the way the film was made and less about the people involved.
Last Rites, Dark Secrets (20:11): This is your typical behind the scenes feature with everyone showing up to talk about how great the film is and how much fun it was to get the great cast together.
Deleted Scenes (7:11): These weren’t bad by any means and could have been inserted back into the film without a hitch. So it seems they were removed for pacing reasons. But fans of the film will want to give them a look.
Gag Reel (2:36): So with this great cast, this is the best gag reel they could put together? Yes, it’s worth the time and is mildly humorous, but I’m guessing there were funnier gags during the making of the film.
Family Album (10:58): Simply put; the cast members talk about their characters. Not sure what the purpose was of having this a separate feature.
Death For Real (5:54): Again, a worthless featurette where the cast talks about death. Why put this on a disc that had largely managed to avoid the serious issue?