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Death and Dark Comedy Collide in Death at a Funeral

  • Christa Banister Crosswalk.com Contributing Writer
  • 2010 4 Apr
  • COMMENTS
Death and Dark Comedy Collide in <i>Death at a Funeral</i>

DVD Release Date:  August 10, 2010
Theatrical Release Date:  April 16, 2010
Rating:  R (for language, drug content and some sexual humor)
Genre:  Comedy
Run Time:  90 min.
Director:  Neil LaBute
Actors:  Chris Rock, Martin Lawrence, James Marsden, Tracy Morgan, Zoe Saldana, Luke Wilson, Peter Dinklage, Keith David, Loretta Devine, Columbus Short, Regina Hall, Danny Glover, Ron Glass

Given the sheer number of sequels that even moderately successful movies get these days (does anyone really need to see Step Up in 3D later this year?) or how many TV shows have recently been adapted for the big screen (we've got another installment of Sex and the City and The A-Team coming up), it's often been suggested that Hollywood has simply run out of original ideas.

And the remake of Death at a Funeral (only three years after the original hit theaters, natch) only serves to underscore that point. Other than giving Luke Wilson an opportunity to star in something other than those annoying AT&T commercials, there was really no need to revisit the story of a family funeral gone seriously awry.

In case you're curious, the latest installment is basically a scene-by-scene reenactment of the 2007 version. Sure, the cast is different (save for Peter Dinklage, who plays the key role of the small guy who shakes things up in a big way with a shocking family revelation), but the threadbare story, the brainchild of social commentator/director Neil LaBute, not to mention all those tasteless jokes, are still fully intact.

This time around, it's Aaron (a surprisingly restrained Chris Rock) who's been tasked with planning his father's funeral because he's the older brother in the family. But like Rodney Dangerfield, Aaron still can't get any respect, namely from his Mama (Loretta Devine) since he and his wife Michelle (Regina Hall) haven't procreated yet. However, after the funeral is a wrap and he collects half the costs from his brother Ryan (Martin Lawrence), Aaron has a plan. Not only will he and his wife finally buy a house and start that family, but he'll finally finish the novel he's been working on for years.

Much to Aaron's chagrin, his brother is already a successful novelist and the apple of his Mama's eye. In fact, everyone (including the preacher, who only agreed to do the service because Ryan was attending) expects that Ryan would give his father's eulogy, rather than Aaron, because "he's the writer of the family."

But Aaron maintains a relatively good attitude nonetheless. Well, until Ryan can't pony up his share. After bragging how he only flies first class and lives the high-roller lifestyle, it turns out that Ryan is broke. Adding insult to injury, when a mysterious guest (Dinklage) turns up at the funeral, he demands $30,000 for his silence after revealing that he and the boys' father were gay lovers. Naturally with Ryan out of cash, Aaron is the one who'd pay the ransom, which would put a major kink in his home-owning plans.

Rounding out the story is a slew of other sit-comy drama. A family friend Elaine (Zoe Saldana) is nervous about telling her disapproving father (Ron Glass) that she's officially engaged to Oscar (a very funny James Marsden in a shameless role) who just happens to be acting very peculiarly. Hoping to calm Oscar's nerves about coming face to face with her father at an important family function, Elaine gives him a Valium, which turns out, isn't Valium at all. Now under the influence of a homemade hallucinogenic substance, Oscar is making another impression altogether whether he's singing and smiling gleefully, which is spooking the guests at such a somber affair, or threatening to jump from the rooftop (while naked, of course) because he mistakenly thinks that Elaine is cheating on him.

Meanwhile, Derek (Luke Wilson), who Elaine's dad actually likes (for reasons that are never explored, mind you) is unsuccessfully trying to win Elaine back. Equally unsuccessful are Derek's attempts to help his friend Norman (Tracy Morgan) who's supposed to make sure his ailing Uncle Russell (Danny Glover in crude comedic form) makes it to the service without getting hurt. In perhaps the worst of the film's truly lowbrow humor (and coincidentally, the moment where my screening audience howled with laughter), when Uncle Russell eats too much nut cake and gets a major case of diarrhea, Derek isn't there to help Norman get Uncle Russell to the bathroom. So Norman ends up with feces all over his hands, face, you name it.

No doubt, there's definitely room for humor in the face of tragedy. In fact, it's probably even welcome. But the antics the filmmakers have cooked up here not only lack anything resembling good taste, but overshadow what could've been some potentially thought-provoking subject matter (dealing with grief and competition between family members, not to mention how many families don't spend much time together, save for funerals and the odd family reunion). But even bothering to go anywhere remotely substantive is ultimately a waste in Death at a Funeral, a story that didn't deserve the green light the first time around, let alone a second.

CAUTIONS:

  • Drugs/Alcohol:  A bottom labeled "Valium" isn't really Valium at all, it's a hallucinogenic drug that makes Oscar act very crazily—and inappropriately—at the funeral. Later, that "Valium" is also taken by a couple of key characters.

  • Language/Profanity:  A steady stream of expletives used throughout including a few uses of the "f" word and misuses of the Lord's name.

  • Sex/Nudity:  Aaron and Ryan learn that their deceased father was having an affair with another man, so there are several crude jokes about what went on sexually. Incriminating photos (nothing but cross-dressing is flashed for the audience to see) are shown to other family members. After getting high on what was supposed to be Valium, Oscar strips down and threatens to jump off the roof while naked (his bare backside is shown in several scenes).

  • Violence:  Frank is tied up and gagged in one scene, and later, put into a coffin with the deceased father (SPOILER ALERT: the real kicker is that he's still alive).

Christa Banister is a full-time freelancer writer, specializing in music, movies and books-related reviews and interviews and is the author of two novels, Around the World in 80 Dates and Blessed Are the Meddlers. Based in St. Paul, Minn., she also weighs in on various aspects of pop culture on her personal blog

For more information, including her upcoming book signings and sample chapters of her novels, check out her Website.