Death at a Funeral
Smeared in pink lipstick, with an unsuitable new hairstyle, Death At A Funeral looks like a weak and slightly grisly exercise in corporate money-making.


6 June 2010

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Plot summary

A funeral ceremony turns into a debacle of exposed family secrets and misplaced bodies.

With the original British version barely cold in its grave, Chris Rock and his chums made the bewildering decision to dig up this 2007 farce and truss it up like a Thanksgiving turkey.

The film was a slight, mildly amusing idea a mere three years ago, and has changed little – certainly not improved – since this wreath of modernisation has been added. A large family roll up for the funeral of an old patriarch, bitching and wailing, getting into all sorts of slapstick scrapes and, of course, learning a lot about each other and the important things in life. Ahhh.

Rock claims he decided to remake Death At A Funeral because he was ‘the only black man in America’ who had heard of it, and he thought it was bloody hilarious. But surely there’s the odd new idea floating around Hollywood? And I don’t mean just pat one-liners that can be slipped into every sodding second of action.

As if sheer density of gags could add incisiveness to proceedings, Rock and director Neil LaBute have added ‘contemporary’ jokes about fried chicken and twitter approximately every two seconds. These left the audience so numb that the odd decent stab at funny (‘Goddamn-Jesus-Christ-fucking-hell… oh hello Father’) was greeted with a blank and morgue-like silence. Would-be son-in-law Oscar’s accidental acid-tripping is a premise that’s been done a thousand times before, but James Marsden (Zoolander) pulls off the grinning and gurning pretty well for about half the film – by which time the novelty is well and truly buried.

Much of the humour is rather tired and unappealing. An ancient grandfather’s bathroom mishaps are unpleasant and surely only funny to 10-year-old boys (which, indeed, may sum up the mentality of Rock’s pouting, knowing gang of yes-men). Expecting a gay midget to provide belly-laughs simply by his presence, especially these days, sums up why this film is a bit lame.

If the producers thought this was edgy, satirical, gallows humour they were very wrong. Black comedy about death has been done brilliantly by television series Six Feet Under, numerous zombie piss-takes and the dark slyness of Death Becomes Her and The Addams Family films. This overwrought, pointless caper is a long way off.

The characters are generally grim parodies of themselves, entirely forgettable and clichéd. An honourable mention must go to Martin Lawrence for a convincingly repulsive turn as Rock’s self-centred author brother Ryan, particularly when he chats up an 18-year-old with the line: ‘You like snacks? How about a sugar daddy?’ And the final joke about R Kelly is probably the bravest and closest to the knuckle that the film gets. For the most part, it seems that this gang of witless Americans have exhumed a corpse that should really have remained buried.

Smeared in pink lipstick, with an unsuitable new hairstyle, Death At A Funeral looks like a weak and slightly grisly exercise in corporate money-making. It wasn’t completely horrible, but it will hopefully be cremated and quickly forgotten this time around. I doubt the headstone will say much.