When it was announced that Neil LaBute, of all people, was going to make an American version of Frank Oz’s British farce Death At A Funeral only three years after its release, folks wondered how LaBute would update the film for contemporary audiences. Would moviegoers in the Obama era be able to relate to a relic of George W. Bush’s second term? Sure enough, producer-star Chris Rock delivers a lot of soon-to-be-dated pop-culture references (that Amy Winehouse quip will undoubtedly zing for generations), but for the most part, LaBute simply ratchets up the volume and raunch.
Like Oz’s original on Red Bull, Death At A Funeral centers on a patriarch’s funeral, where dark secrets are uncovered and long-simmering resentments come to a boil among his colorful relatives. Frustrated writer Rock bitterly resents the fame, money, and irresponsible lifestyle of his flashy older brother Martin Lawrence. Family friend Luke Wilson tries to win back ex-girlfriend Zoe Saldana from her fiancé James Marsden, who has accidentally taken a powerful hallucinogen. Meanwhile, Peter Dinklage (reprising his role from the original) threatens to derail the proceedings by revealing his secret gay past with the newly deceased.
Rock acquits himself nicely as the responsible brother and resident straight man, but everyone else in the cast has apparently been advised to mug shamelessly and yell their lines as loudly as possible, especially Tracy Morgan, and Loretta Devine as the dead man’s grandchildren-craving widow. Death At A Funeral has two primary tones: broad and Tracy Morgan-covered-in-Danny Glover’s-crap super-loud. Oz’s original prominently featured Dinklage bursting out of a coffin and a hallucinogen-addled man running amok in his birthday suit, but it was blessed with the Ernst Lubitsch touch compared to LaBute’s ham-fisted Comic View take on the material. Glover sacrifices his dignity as a hateful, profane, diarrhea-prone old crank; though he may profess otherwise, he’s exactly the right age for this sassy-old-man shit. Marsden introduces a welcome note of daft innocence as a tripping space cadet who treats the world like a fascinating new toy, but all the pandering and flailing slapstick seldom leads to laughs. Hopefully, the inevitable 2013 Hispanic remake of Death At A Funeral will fix all the tonal issues and restore the series to the modest amusement of the original.