- Rated R
- Buy the BD
All photos © Sony Pictures
Reviewed by Jason Zingale
t might seem a bit counterproductive to remake a movie that’s only been around for a few years, but Hollywood has been doing it for quite some time now. More often than not, the reason behind remaking a film for audiences comes down to two things: subtitles and cultural differences. Frank Oz’s 2007 film, “Death at a Funeral,” has neither, so it’s a bit strange to see it being re-imagined as a Tyler Perry-esque urban comedy when you could just as easily rent the original. But despite how terrible that may sound to fans of Oz's version, Neil LaBute’s remake isn’t so bad. The film’s ensemble cast clicks together nicely and the story, as written by original scribe Dean Craig, is mostly note for note. That might only make LaBute’s update even more unnecessary, but if they’re going to do it anyway, at least it’s one we can all enjoy.
The film takes place during a funeral service for a much-loved family patriarch. Aaron (Chris Rock), the eldest son of the deceased, wants nothing more than for things to go smoothly, but what starts out as a tasteful celebration of his father’s life is quickly derailed by a series of interruptions. Cousin Elaine’s (Zoe Saldana) new boyfriend, Oscar (James Marsden), begins acting suspiciously weird after she gives him a Valium that turns out to be acid made by her pharmacologist brother (Columbus Short); Elaine’s ex (Luke Wilson) spends the day desperately trying to win her back; and family friend Norman (Tracy Morgan) is berated by the cantankerous Uncle Russell (Danny Glover). And just when things couldn't get any worse, a mysterious stranger (Peter Dinklage) blackmails Aaron and his brother (Martin Lawrence) with pictures detailing his intimate relationship with their father.
Much of what makes this version enjoyable is the cast, so it’s disappointing to find that, while they work great together as a unit, the individual relationships aren’t nearly as successful. The sibling rivalry between Rock and Lawrence, in particular, is lacking the same kind of emotion that provided the core of the original story. It doesn’t help that neither of these guys is a very good actor, but the biggest problem is that they seem more concerned with their own lives than the fact that their father has just passed away. Of course, just like the 2007 version, “Death at a Funeral” is primarily a platform for its two scene-stealing performances. Reprising his role from the original, Peter Dinklage is just as funny the second time around as the secret lover, while James Marsden one-ups Alan Tudyk’s already hilarious turn as the acid-tripping boyfriend. Marsden has been on a real comedic roll as of late, and though his performance in “Sex Drive” was certainly memorable, he makes “Death at a Funeral” worth watching for him alone.
If there’s any disparity between the two films, it’s that the U.S. version approaches the humor of the situation a little differently. The original was a darkly comical look at a funeral service gone horribly wrong, and though many of the jokes remain the same in the remake, they’re delivered with a little less class. Case in point: when the Big Secret is revealed in Frank Oz’s version, Matthew Macfayden’s Daniel looks around his father’s study to discover that it’s filled with Greco-Roman art. In the remake, Aaron not only finds these same pieces (including an especially garish statue where two men are tugging at each other’s testicles), but a book on Madonna as well. That’s not to demean the remake in any way, but it’s obvious from the get-go that the comedy is going to be a little broader than its predecessor. It’s this decidedly blue-collar approach that will likely appeal to audiences more than the dry British wit of the original, but while LaBute’s version of “Death at a Funeral” still hits all the high points, it also has a few more lows.
Two-Disc Blu-Ray Review:
Sony’s Blu-ray release of “Death at a Funeral” boasts a solid collection of special features highlighted by an enjoyable audio commentary with director Neil LaBute and producer/star Chris Rock. All of the usual suspects also appear –including a making-of featurette, character featurette, deleted scenes, and gag reel – as well as a short discussion with the cast about their opinions on death, and a digital copy of the film.