Friday 4 June 2010


The new Chris Rock starring Death at a Funeral arrived in cinemas today.
More after the jump...

Following the death of his father, Aaron (Chris Rock) must open up his home to all his extended family, as one by one they pay their respects to his dear departed father. When a stranger arrives with some compromising photos of their father, Aaron and his brother Ryan (Martin Lawrence) must put aside their differences to avert a major revelation. On top of this Aaron's wife is baby crazy and one of their guests just accidentally took some acid and can see the coffin moving. Can Aaron solve all these problems at once and deliver the heartfelt eulogy he's written for his father?

Based on the 2007 British comedy of the same name, this new version carries over all the same characters, but with new names. And of course they're now played mostly by black actors. What's next? A remake of Magicians with Kenan and Kel? Actually, I'd quite like to see that.

Although the script has been altered slightly from the original (added references to TMZ, Twitter and Craigslist), it hasn't, if anything, been Americanised enough. The original was very much a statement on the carry on regardless attitude of British society, and it doesn't sit quite as easily on this middle class black family. But then maybe I should credit this film for not just going for a simple 'urbanisation', porting over the same characters but played by black actors. It's definitely an interesting experiment.

Chris Rock is fairly restrained in his role, never breaking into the loudmouth patter he is known for, instead dialling it in at around 5 as the grieving son Aaron. Rock is very likeable as the aspiring author and family man, and it's nice to see him try something new. You want to take his side when everyone around him is just disappointed that it's not his brother delivering the eulogy. 

I've never been a fan of Martin Lawrence, but he's not terrible here, playing the arrogant successful brother Ryan with aplomb. His character is quite slimy and letcherous, the only barrier between him sleeping with a girl half his age is double checking they're not related first. Danny Glover is a highlight of the film as Uncle Russell, a cranky old bastard who's only been invited to the funeral because they had to. He seems to have aged dramatically, but at least he gets to deliver his signature line. Tracy Morgan as the hypochondriac Norman is good value too, though at this point I'm pretty sure he's just playing himself again.

James Marsden gets the plum role of Oscar, the unfortunate boyfriend who takes some acid and gets naked on the roof. He is undoubtedly the funniest thing in the movie, but never quite reaches the zanyness of Alan Tudyk in the original. Peter Dinklage returns as the blackmailing dwarf Frank (called Peter in the original), and there's a frequently flat joke used where they never mention his height, instead referring to him as the guy in the leather jacket. Frank seems a lot more scheming than Peter did, and I still find myself questioning his response to what happens at the end of the movie. Involve the police maybe?

This marks another peculiar career choice for director Neil LaBute, continuing his decline from misogynistic auteur (In the Company of Men) to jobbing director for hire (2006's The Wicker Man). It's odd to see him work on this project, especially when he brings nothing new to it, copying Frank Oz's script and camera work by the letter.

Altogether it's a fairly enjoyable romp, if not offering anything new to people who've seen the original film. Except for a couple of tweaks the US version has exactly the same script and pacing as the UK version, when it could have benefited from a more individual retelling.


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