"Death at a Funeral" is a remake that updates the long-forgotten, lost-to-history, somebody-dust-this-one-off-please 2007 film of the same name. A whopping three years have passed since the original Frank Oz motion picture found a modicum of cult success, leaving this update a little too eager to redo what was already rather recently done.
Aaron (Chris Rock) is not only facing the funeral for his beloved father, but all the bills and domestic headaches that come with a family gathering. Watching his brother, best-selling author Ryan (Martin Lawrence), swoop in and steal all the attention is bad enough, but at the same time wife Michelle (Regina Hall) itches to conceive a baby, mother Cynthia (Loretta Devine) is overwhelmed with grief, and various family acquaintances (including Zoe Saldana, Tracy Morgan, James Marsden, Danny Glover, Columbus Short, and a very weary looking Luke Wilson) have arrived to disrupt this peaceful celebration of life. Also spoiling the day is little person Frank (Peter Dinklage, reprising his role from the original film), who's come to blackmail Aaron with pictures of his father in compromising homosexual positions.
The twist (if one can call it that) here is the primarily African-American cast, who step into essentially the same exact script as the 2007 picture, with screenwriter Dean Craig returning to refresh his original work (also the basis for a 2009 Bollywood comedy titled "Daddy Cool"). While Oz worked with a wry cast and his own moderately refined comedic skills, the new "Funeral" has Chris Rock reteaming with his "Nurse Betty" director, Neil LaBute. If it sounds like an uncomfortable artistic match, that's because it is.
While madcap in spurts, the original "Funeral" appeared to have its tone in check, wound carefully by Oz for maximum guffaws and squeals. LaBute's remake never snaps out of sleep mode, lumbering through familiar scenarios with its tires slashed. Granted, most coming to picture won't even realize it's a remake, but the sapped feel of the piece can easily be detected. Not known for his slapstick sorcery, LaBute was a poor choice for the director's chair, lamely tracing the earlier picture with a zombie-like sense of exhilaration. LaBute's not a comedian and a farce like "Funeral" needs a director able to pinball characters around the frame while positioning the plot into a place of delectable frenzy.
Under LaBute's watch, the cast barely work themselves into a lather conveying such coffin-tipping madness. While the film's been blessed with an R-rating, there's little bawdy behavior to enjoy, outside of some mild cursing and some male nudity from Marsden, here taking over the wandering acid-trip role from beloved character actor Alan Tudyk. With Lawrence, Rock, and Morgan in leading roles, the promise for something saltier is never kept, and the trio look downright confused at times reaching blindly for jokes that just aren't there. This leads to random punchlines and sloppy ADR improvisation, which always ruins the merriment.
The anamorphic widescreen (2.40:1 aspect ratio) presentation deals with amber hues and deep interiors, leaving the image lacking in overt color. The whole image quality seems dialed down artificially to sustain the comic pitch, and EE is a problem here, but this is not a forcefully visual picture to begin with, leaving a few kinks here and there disappointing, but not distracting. Black detail holds together nicely, allowing for a fine display of information.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 sound mix is good about creating a mood, with soundtrack cuts coming through superbly, providing a pleasing low-end to the whole experience. Dialogue is pushed comfortably up front, with all the fast and furious exchanges easily understood. Atmospherics are limited, but life enters the surrounds during crowd sequences and a few moments of slapstick. DVS and French tracks are also included.
English, English SDH, and French subtitles are offered.
The feature-length audio commentary with director Neil LaBute and actor Chris Rock employs tech terrifically, bringing the two together despite opposite locations. LaBute and Rock make a fine pair, with the director taking the lead explaining his technical challenges and ensemble planning, while Rock asks great questions and drops in a few one-liners. It's a consistent conversation, carefully exploring what's occurring on-screen, though it lacks an overt sense of humor one might expect from something involving Rock. Talk of adaptation challenges and cast camaraderie is especially interesting, but nothing quite tops the effort to "poop" up Tracy Morgan for a big fecal matter gag.
"Deleted Scenes" (7:12) supply a few extra comedic beats, a moment of intimacy for Aaron, and some additional drug-induced mania for Oscar.
"Gag Reel" (2:35) is a rather brief reel of mix-em-ups, considering the comedic pedigree of the cast. Of particular interest is a cell phone police montage, where cast members caught with a ringer were fined $100.
"'Death at a Funeral:' Last Rites, Dark Secrets" (20:10) is a featurette built for pay cable, covering on-set interviews with cast and crew and some BTS footage. It's slickly made, but empty, despite showing off the energy of the set.
"Family Album" (10:58) talks to the cast, who offer up character motivations and professional happiness as they try to sell the movie to the uninitiated.
"Death for Real" (5:55) assumes a more philosophical stance, with the cast and crew expressing their thoughts on death, the afterlife, and the grieving process. Creepy and unfunny.
A Theatrical Trailer has not been included.
"Death at a Funeral" has a few scattered laughs, but not nearly the same quantity and quality of the previous picture, which is rather startling considering how identical the two films are at times. It's not necessarily a lazy reworking, just strangely lethargic. More tedious than ticklish.