‘Death at a Funeral’: Nothing new, but still funny

  • By Robert Horton Herald Movie Critic
  • Thursday, April 15, 2010 7:23pm
  • LifeGo-See-Do

It sounded like a crazy idea, but it sort of works: Less than three years after the arrival of a movie, the remake is in theaters.

This isn’t uncommon with foreign-language films which are reshaped and re-imagined; you’ll soon see an English-language redo of the Swedish hit “Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.”

But 2007’s “Death at a Funeral” was already in English (or British, if you prefer), so the leap to a Hollywood remake isn’t too far.

The main “translation” is that the new version features not a cast of British comedy pros, but a roster of mostly black actors, Chris Rock and Martin Lawrence included. Watching it so soon after the first version is a very odd experience … and it still sort of works.

If you can cast your memory way, way back to the original, the concept of Dean Craig’s script is contained to a single afternoon: A family patriarch has died, and his mourners gather at his roomy house for the service.

Rock plays the dead man’s responsible older son; Lawrence plays the younger, who returns to the family fold from a glamorous life as a well-known author. Rock and his wife (Regina Hall) are trying to have a child, and he dreams of being a writer himself.

A variety of zany events unfold to capsize the otherwise solemn occasion, including a hallucinogenic drug mistaken for a tranquilizer (James Marsden plays the main victim of this pharmaceutical shuffle, with amusing results) and a mysterious stranger (Peter Dinklage) with a secret about the dear departed.

Dinklage is the one member of the cast who repeats his role from the first film. That must have been an interesting experience, but he’s equally adept in both versions.

Other cast members include Zoe Saldana (in the flesh here, not her “Avatar” avatar), Danny Glover, Luke Wilson and Ron Glass, who in a previous lifetime was a regular on TV’s “Barney Miller.”

While Rock and Lawrence play it relatively cool, the acting-out prize goes to Tracy Morgan (“30 Rock”). He handles the most unpleasant scatological material with his usual restraint, which is to say, he goes over the top and stays there.

The first “Death at a Funeral” was directed by Frank Oz; this version is helmed by Neil LaBute, who is best known for his corrosive plays and movies (“In the Company of Men,” for instance). Offbeat choice, but LaBute keeps the silliness moving along and never lets the pace go flabby.

This makes for a mechanical but effective comedy; it’s no classic, just a slapsticky excuse for some very broad gags. As this is an almost scene-for-scene re-creation of the 2007 movie, those gags land at almost the same rate as before, for better or worse.

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