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Monday, June 17, 2024
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Good grief

Grade: C

Death isn't funny. And neither is this movie.

Death at a Funeral is an amusing yet unusual remake of the 2007 British comedy of the same name. There is no middle ground for comedy: it's a hit or miss sort of thing. Director Neil LaBute (Lakeview Terrace) veers far from the mark on this one on Dean Craig's script, settling for characters that lack character and jokes that are more complacent than funny.

Plus, Chris Rock (Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa) is in it. Come on, dude. You haven't appeared in a good movie since Nurse Betty in 2000, and even that had its limits.

Rock is a brilliant comic yet terrible movie star. At the very least, he has a bad agent. He seems to think that genuinely bad jokes will make audiences laugh, as long as he's the one who delivers them. In movies, especially those he has written and directed, he is about as funny as Pagliacci.

Still, this is Rock's best movie in a while. An all-star ensemble, fairly intelligent script, and LaBute's experienced directing style makes Death at a Funeral bearable.

Rock plays Aaron, a tax attorney who must prepare a eulogy on the day of his father's funeral. His wife Michelle (Regina Hall, Law Abiding Citizen) is focused, however, in bringing life into the world, disrupting his concentration.

Meanwhile, various relatives and friends raise havoc. His younger brother Ryan (Martin Lawrence, College Road Trip) is a trash novelist who constantly steals Aaron's spotlight. Aaron's cousin Elaine (Zoe Saldana, Takers) invites her strapping yet wimpy boyfriend Oscar (James Marsden, The Box) to the funeral. To calm himself down, he accidently takes acid from a bottle labeled Valium provided by Elaine's drug-dealing brother Jeff (Columbus Short, Armored).

And then there's a midget. Frank (Peter Dinklage, Saint John of Las Vegas) knows a secret about Aaron's father and blackmails Aaron with the threat of revealing it.

The ensemble does its best to bring life to any otherwise banal storyline. A wacky family that falls apart during a traditional gathering is nothing new. Replace the coffin with an altar and you have every movie Julia Roberts has ever been in. Ever.

What the movie tries to do is bring unconventional humor. Yet that is hard to do when a psychedelic boyfriend appears in every other scene and Martin Lawrence plays himself.

The movie cuts from scene to scene way too often, not giving the audience enough time to soak up the performances.

The performances themselves get a bit tiring, especially Tracy Morgan's. Morgan (Cop Out), who plays a family friend, plays the same inept black man-child that he has been doing for most of his career. If you're into that sort of thing, you're into that sort of thing, but most people aren't.

LaBute's treatment of the movie is both professional and totally callous. For his first comedy, Death at a Funeral isn't as nearly as successful as it could've been. LaBute, a true filmmaker, has recently lost his touch.

The director's past few movies, starting with the odious The Wicker Man, were not good in any sense. Once a promising and impressive auteur, LaBute is turning into another B-grade Hollywood director. Until he starts making more personal movies that go back to his roots, he will continue to turn out clunkers far below factory standards.

One thing to point out is Danny Glover's performance. Playing a cantankerous, wheelchair-bound old man, Glover (2012) is the only truly funny person in this movie. He plays the character with great zeal, squeezing it for everything it's worth. His foul mouth and angry tantrums shows that he has surprising comedic skills.

Death at a Funeral, however, is nowhere near Glover's level of funny. It might get a few laughs here and there but otherwise the movie suffers from bouts of stiff, stupid gags. It belongs six feet under.




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