Death At A Funeral

Director: Neil LaBute

Notable Actors: Chris Rock, Martin Lawrence, Tracy Morgan, Luke Wilson, Danny Glover, Loretta Devine, Zoe Saldana, James Marsden, Peter Dinklage, Columbus Short, Keith David, Regina Hall

Rating: R

Review:  When I heard Chris Rock wanted to get a remake of my beloved Death at a Funeral rolling, I couldn’t fathom a reason for this to happen.  The film was only released about three years ago I thought.  Would it keep the same British wit and charm of the original I thought.  Why the hell is the guy who just recently directed The Wicker Man and Lakeview Terrace directing it I thought.  I prayed this wouldn’t ruin the original for me.  But then, a glimmer of hope could be seen when famed movie critic Roger Ebert gave the film an A- and said “This is the funniest movie since The Hangover.”  Could it be?  Could this movie not be another shameless American remake of an overseas success?  Could I for once not be that guy who sounds like a pretentious jerk who says “oh but the foreign version is so much better pish posh on American cinema”?  Nope.  False alarm people.  Because the original Death at a Funeral, released in 2007 and directed by Frank Oz, IS undoubtedly better than its more juvenile and immature copy.

If you’ve seen the original, then you won’t be in for a single surprise because the new version is basically a shot for shot remake.  If you haven’t, it’s basically about a funeral where everything that can go wrong will go wrong.  Aaron (Rock) and his wife Michelle (Hall) have the pleasure of hosting a funeral for Aaron’s father in his own house.  Aaron’s mother Cynthia (Devine) is the grieving widow whom seeks comfort from Aaron’s brother Ryan (Lawrence), the “successful” and charismatic one in the family striking it big as a writer.  The rest of the family includes many different personalities like the straight-laced brother of the deceased, Duncan, who is played by Ron Glass.  Saldana plays his daughter Elaine, who is dating a man named Oscar (Marsden) who will never be good enough for her in her father’s eyes.  Elaine’s brother Jeff (Short) is a pharmaceutical student who spends his time mixing pills and selling them.  Norman (Morgan) is a friend of the family who is given the task to pick up the crotchety Uncle Russell (Glover), and also accompanied by friend and ex-boyfriend of Elaine’s Derek (Wilson) who is still in love with her.  And to top it all off, there is a mysterious midget (Dinklage) who doesn’t quite seem to fit in with the rest of the crowed and no one can seem to remember who he is.  So amidst all the grief and mourning of the death of Edward and attempts to comfort his wife Cynthia, the family also has to deal with a drugged guest in Oscar, a jealous ex-boyfriend in Derek, a moronic Norman that never says the right thing, a brother that can only focus on one of the other beautiful guests, and a midget who has a secret no one seems to have time to hear.  But can Aaron keep his wits long enough to get through the day and through the funeral?

“Just uhhhh…make a funny face…that’s what people do in comedies right?” -LaBute

So alright, let me just preface my review by saying yes, some of you probably will enjoy this version of the movie better than the original.  It is a more Americanized version of the film that steers away from the intelligent quick wit and dry tones that are prevalent in most British comedies and opt for more, well, “dumbed down” jokes with a lot more racial humor, sexual themes, and well just a lot of “potty” humor the original didn’t need to be funny.  But I know plenty of people who don’t care for British humor at all, and in their case the remake may be right up their alley.

Like I said before, the remake is pretty much a shot for shot remake, but the stuff they did throw in didn’t add to the plot in any way positive.  In this version, they put more stress on sex between Aaron and his wife and between Ryan and the barley legal “family friend.”  All this does is give the new one a reason to have jokes about not wearing panties and R Kelly. Like we haven’t heard them before?  I also didn’t like how Oscar’s scenes were always cut short by quick cuts between Marsden wandering around aimlessly in a drug crazed stupor to the other characters blabbering on and on about what to do.  In the original there were much longer and cleaner shots of Tudyk tripping out and they were much funnier.  We lose some of the focus on what Marsden brings to that character because we only get glimpses of him instead of the longer shots he deserved.  And the overall feel of the movie was very “Hollywood” and fake, like the performers were over-acting the reactions in an unbelievable and ridiculous manner.  In the original the reactions were much more subtle, like in the opening scene.  The original sets the perfect quirky tone for the movie and develops a sense of realism while the remake lets the scene drag on long enough for Rock to make a Jackie Chan joke about the man who should have been his father in the casket.  I understand the adage “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” which can attest to the scene for scene replication.  But you also need to pull of the same quality of the original material in order for the saying to hold true, which the 2010 version just cannot hold up to.

I’m also not afraid to say I wasn’t in love with the cast.  Rock plays the lead character here, and delivers a usual performance for his caliber.  Martin Lawrence did not strike me as funny most of the movie, and I really didn’t believe the whole Luke Wilson being a dirt bag the entire movie.  Both of their parts were far better in the original version.  They were able to get the same actor, Peter Dinklage, for the trouble making midget and he basically delivers the exact same role as before.  I loved the drug dealer in the original version, being one of my favorite characters, so to me Columbus Short had a lot to live up to from the beginning.  And it’s not like he did a bad job, it was just average.  Nothing special besides a few funny moments.  And Zoe Saldana?  Daisy Donovan played a much better character again, being far more blunt and unforgiving of her ex-boyfriend who refuses to leave her alone.  Everyone else is pretty much forgettable in my eyes. Everyone except Marsden that is.  He is the only character here I actually thought was cast well, even though Alan Tudyk absolutely nailed the role in the original and simply cannot be topped.  But look to Marsden here for a large share of the laughs that come from the new film and show why he is truly a fantastic comedic actor.  I totally disagree with anyone who bashed Marsden for his tries in comedy because I thought he had a great comedic presence with his timing and such, putting this movie on his back and carrying every scene he is in.

As where I would give the 2007 Death at a Funeral an 8.5/10 for a final rating, the new version just doesn’t measure up.  It replaces witty and satirical comedy with vulgar and simplistic comedy.  All the characters end up being downgraded versions of their original counterparts.  And you can’t even argue that I didn’t find it funny because I saw the original and knew what would happen.  Fact is I’ve seen the original multiple times and it makes me laugh just as hard every time.  It doesn’t matter that I know what is about to happen, because if something is funny you’ll laugh no matter what.  And that was my main flaw of the new movie.  The obvious shortage of laughs in comparison to the original.  After I watched Rock’s new version, all it made me want to do was pop in the DVD of the original and erase my thoughts so when I thought of Death at a Funeral, I wouldn’t be thinking of all the problems I had with the new one, but instead the joyful little black dramedy that became one of my favorite films of the decade.  Please, go watch the original if you want the superior version.  And hey, if you don’t like it, chances are then you’ll love this new version. Think of it as a test to see if the American version is right for you.  But for this critic, it was nothing but a bland remake of a far superior movie.

Final Rating: 5 idiotic potty jokes out of 10

“Just…uhhh…I don’t know….do the funny face again.” -LaBute



About Matt Donato

I love all things film. I'll watch any genre, any actor, at any time. This whole film critic thing is a passionate hobby for now which I'm balancing with working in the business world, but hey, someday, who knows?
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