Death At A Funeral has less than auspicious beginnings, being a wholly unnecessary remake of Frank Oz’s low budget but modestly successful 2007 Brit-com of the same name. The original Death was widely panned, so why anyone thought, “I know, what we’ll do is make a new version of this but with Martin Lawrence in!” is beyond me. Hollywood types, eh?
A big, old-fashioned farce, Death follows its predecessor’s plot note for note. Chris Rock stars as Aaron, the eldest son of the (unnamed) dead man whose funeral it is. The day doesn’t get off to a good start, with the undertakers putting the wrong body in Aaron’s father’s coffin, but this is only the start of his worries. It’s about to get a lot, lot worse, as the sprawling strands of this dysfunctional clan start to amass on the family home, bringing all the baggage of unresolved resentment and long simmering feuds with them.
What unravels is a massive comedy of errors, the biggest of which is a total lack of comedy. This is an hour-and-a-half of cringe-inducing gags, gaffs and guff. Did I mention it had Martin Lawrence in? Talk about the final nail.
Death. has several intertwining plot strands at play, all of which twist, turn and tie themselves into knots. The main narrative revolves around a mysterious dwarf, Frank (Peter Dinklage), who turns up to reveal a scandalous skeleton in Aaron’s father’s closet. There are also some high-powered hallucinogenic drugs masquerading as Valium doing the rounds, with several stressed out guests inadvertently tripping the light fantastic.
After Frank is given five of these mind-bending pills by mistake, he hits his head on a coffee table, leaving Aaron and his rascally writer brother Ryan (Lawrence) with two dead bodies to dispose of.
This is just the central strand of a convoluted collection of events, revolving round a carousel of clichéd characters as bland as they are unlikeable. The funniest this film gets is watching James Marsden (Cyclops from X-Men) freaking out on designer LSD, which is a pretty cheap and easy gag.
If you like your humour even less subtle, there is the ‘hilarious’ sight of Tracy Morgan getting his hand stuck under Danny Glover as he relieves himself on the commode.
On the plus side, there is an admittedly impressive all star ensemble cast. As well as the aforementioned Rock, Lawrence, Dinklage, Marsden, Morgan and Glover, Luke Wilson, Zoe Saldana and Columbus Short (in their second collaboration this summer after The Losers) all feature, plus a few other famous supporting faces. A heady mix of acting talent all spectacularly wasted by director Neil LaBute.
In fairness, LaBute was hamstrung by some terrible miscasting decisions. The worst offender is Rock himself, who also produced. Rock is one of the most natural comedians of his generation, but seems to have taken the bizarre choice of playing the straight man. Why? Lawrence is guaranteed to ruin any film, but at least his bilious demeanour is well suited to the self-centred Ryan. Luke Wilson’s laconic affability is just plain wrong for sex pest ex Derek, and Marsden tries to play loopy, but fails.
Tracy Morgan does better as the hypochondriac hanger on Norman, and puts in the most credible and interesting performance. Lastly, Danny Glover amuses as the cantankerous Uncle Russell. But then comes the toilet gag. And, if that wasn’t indignant enough, he’s forced into self-parody once again. Yes, you guessed it. “I’m getting too old for this shit!” is customarily uttered through gritted teeth. Epic lolz.
Unfortunately, that and the hand-poo gag aren’t in the same scene. It would have been a fitting coup de grace.
However, it does lead me on to my conclusion, because Death At A Funeral just plain stinks.