Death at a Funeral
I don’t know why I was optimistic for the new comedy, DEATH AT A FUNERAL. It could have been the original British comedy directed by Frank Oz back in 2007. I have always had a soft spot for Mr. Oz ever since he worked and voiced the muppet Fozzie Bear back in the day with good friend Jim Henson as Kermit the Frog. The 2007 version had madcap zaniness breaking up the prim and proper British funeral, whereas this film chose the same zaniness to interrupt a black family grieving the loss of a patriarch in America. The American director, Neil LaBute, then populated that family with professional comedians that actually played it straight for a good deal of the movie…much to the film’s dismay, unfortunately. There are a couple of good laughs in the film, but when called upon for the punch lines, there’s often very little punch. The sad thing is the disappointment, really. These comedians, combined with seasoned actors, this storyline…I expected more.
Chris Rock plays Aaron, oldest son of the family who’s lost his father. That father requested to have the funeral at the family home, so Aaron plays host to all the relatives coming in for the occasion, and we are introduced to a host of characters with a host of problems. Ryan, played by Martin Lawrence, is a published author and serial narcissist, but is loved by all in the family due to his perceived success. Zoe Saldana plays Elaine, cousin to Aaron, who brings her boyfriend/fiancée Oscar (James Marsden) to the funeral, but Elaine’s father (Ron Glass) does not like the boy. Tracey Morgan and Luke Wilson play family friends put in charge of transporting Uncle Russell – a cantankerous, foul-mouthed Danny Glover, who actually borrows a famous line from LETHAL WEAPON – and Luke is an old lover of Elaine. There is also an initially amusing side story of Aaron and his wife Michelle (Regina Hall) trying to conceive, with this the last day of her cycle and Aaron’s mother (underused Loretta Devine) guilting them for a grandchild for what we assume has been a long time due to Michelle’s insistence.
And this is all just backstory. The actual events of the day involve Oscar taking a homemade hallucinogenic, Ryan and Aaron’s continued sibling rivalry, Tracey Morgan flipping out over a rash and getting some vulgar poop humor, and Peter Dinklage rehashing his role from the original as a little person with a big secret concerning the family patriarch. Just in writing all that down I am excited about the movie again…but then I remember that I watched it already, and the acting did not match up with the possibilities of the stories. Which seems ridiculous because these are comedic stories, and the movie is populated with comic actors.
Chris Rock underplays for once, which is welcome at the beginning, but then when we need to see him come to full boil, he just doesn’t sell it, and it comes off weak, especially in an awkward final confrontation with Ryan. Martin Lawrence also plays it reserved, but has one of the better physical jokes with his fight with Peter Dinklage, and a running gag with advances toward an incredible looking 18-year old girl, but even he isn’t allowed to truly let loose when it’s called for. James Marsden has some funny parts initially (I loved him singing “Amazing Grace” to the widow) but I spent most of the movie waiting for the trip to stop and the panic to begin. Panic after the trip can be just as funny, if not funnier, because the trip is just being silly. Zoe Saldana does alright without the blue skin of AVATAR, but really I’m just looking forward to her blowing stuff up in THE LOSERS, and Columbus Short even has some funny parts but I’m sure he’s capable of more (which I also hope to see in THE LOSERS).
I need to stop being optimistic for Chris Rock movies. His stand up is incredible, and I guess it just never translated to the big screen. Martin Lawrence actually surprised me with his reserve, but the director didn’t know when to set these guys loose. And because of that, Neil LaBute fails to deliver on what could have been a hilarious remake.