Remakes, for better or worse (I gravitate toward the latter), are just a part of the movie industry these days. There's no stopping them from raiding the multiplex because they are generally cheap (inexpensive to hire, young cast), require less thinking (who has the time to come up with an original idea?) and already known by name to the audience (previous film was built in marketing).
Most of the remakes are of films made in the 1970s/1980s but Death at a Funeral is a different sort of remake. Made way, way back in 2007, this farce has been transformed from an English setting to current day Los Angeles. Same language, same film, different cast. How does the film translate? Death at a Funeral is a hit-and-miss affair that lets loose with so many jokes, some are bound to connect to their target.
Death at a Funeral takes place during a single day as relatives come together for the funeral services of the family patriarch. Aaron (Chris Rock) is the oldest son, and it's up to him to make the day go off without a hitch.
Aaron is a successful accountant, and he lives at home with his wife. Mom doesn't think he's up to the task and wants her second son Ryan (Martin Lawrence) to be more involved in funeral proceedings. Ryan's a published novelist (of questionable product by everyone's estimation), and no one understands why he isn't giving the eulogy.
All kinds of people show up for the services including a Reverend (Keith David), a cranky and wheelchair-bound uncle (Danny Glover), a variety of cousins (Zoe Saldana), some non-relatives (Luke Wilson, Tracy Morgan, James Marsden) and a mysterious stranger (Peter Dinklage). All of the characters are thrown into the comedic stew and some of it works, some of it doesn't work at all.
It seems dear old Dad had a secret when he was alive. The kind of big secret that the brothers will do anything to not let out and spoil their father's funeral service. This includes paying a large sum to a blackmailer threatening to unleash photos. If word makes it back to Mom and the other relatives, an embarrassing disaster will take place. Aaron, as the oldest son and caretaker, cannot have this happen on his watch.
I came to Death at a Funeral ignorant and unable to compare the two films as I didn't see the original English version. All I knew was it was a farce set around a family funeral and directed by one-time edgy filmmaker Neil LaBute.
The new version of Death at a Funeral is still a farce. That means a lot of high energy, over-the-top comedy with preposterous situations that are unrelenting. Death at a Funeral maintains its quick pace during the entire film and never stops trying to garner laughs.
Lack of effort isn't a fault as it never lets off of the gas, even when it is floundering. Just wait a minute or so and another series of jokes will come flying from the story.
The biggest problem the film has is its reliance on repetitive concepts in the story. The brother vs. brother jealousy is a tired story element. One character (Marsden) accidentally takes a hallucinogenic and completely goes bonkers. He sees green everywhere, strips off his clothes and ends up nude on the roof of the house. That's funny for a few minutes, but over and over the action cuts to Marsden out of his mind and it quickly loses steam. There's a time limit on how long certain gags or set-ups remain funny, and this is one that expires early, yet keeps coming back on the screen.
Another example is the relationship between Saldana and Wilson that has given way too many scenes that drag the film to a complete stop. She isn't interested in him, he can't take a hint no matter how bluntly she tells him. Yet, we have to witness them having the same conversation repeatedly. It's pointless, unnecessary, not funny and definitely not crucial to the story, so less of that would have been nice.
Those are examples of what doesn't work in the movie, but there are some things that are funny in Death at a Funeral. My favorite bits revolved around the crotchety, foul-mouthed Uncle Russell and the attempt by various characters to keep Dad's secret buried from the guests. There's so much slapstick, mayhem and bits of business (all things I love) that it would be hard pressed to get some chuckles out of me. In fact, it delivers a surprising amount of laughs, including a couple of big, rousing, theatre-pleasing moments.
The three comedic leads -- Rock, Lawrence and Morgan -- are all funny men but subtlety isn't their strongest trait when it comes to acting. They survive off of playing versions of the same character -- themselves. A film such as Death at a Funeral is the perfect vehicle for them because good acting isn't required. Being able to deliver humorous lines is what is needed in a farce and that's right in their sweet spot.
Morgan in particular, rants and raves in typical Morgan-fashion and if you think he's funny, you'll laugh. It's not really acting but that doesn't mean it doesn't have its place in a comedy.
Death at a Funeral is a silly, absurd and exaggerated comedy. Those things are to be expected as the movie is a farce. It's plagued by flat moments and missteps, but it has enough zany antics, scenes of questionable taste and over-the-top energy that make it better than it might have been. Should it have been made, considering the original came out only three years ago? Probably not. But, this is how Hollywood does it now, and the audience doesn't have much choice in the matter.
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