If you haven’t seen the recent remake of the 2007 Frank Oz film of the same title, Death at a Funeral, you should consider yourself lucky. There is very little redeeming about this film, from a scattered script to nondescript performances and a loose plot that ultimately fails to deliver. Not even the cast can keep the film from losing momentum, even though some of the top African-American actors working in the business today appear. Danny Glover as the wheelchair bound, foul-mouthed uncle is relegated to grouchy one-liners and at times insensitive disabled person humor as a backdrop character devoid of relevance. Peter Dinklage, who oddly enough appeared in the original 2007 version, is Frank, the estranged lover of the deceased, yet is only moderately more interesting; he too is more of a background character serving plot more than anything else. Chris Rock meanders, at times direction-less in the lead, his scenes with on-screen wife Regina Hall are insincere and discredited by gesture and results oriented acting more akin to slapstick than comedy or drama. I’m not a fan of the term dramedy, though obvious the filmmakers intended this to fall somewhere in the vicinity.
If you’re looking for a few notable laughs from actors you admire or a filmmaker who has delivered films of mention in the past, Death at a Funeral (2010) might serve a momentary parlay from the troubles of your real world concerns. But for every sight gag and one-line joke delivered as if the entire cast is in on something the audience is not, the film teeters on laborious at the cost of simple pleasures.
Tracy Morgan (SNL, 30 Rock) Keith David (The Thing, Platoon, The Bird, Men at Work) and Luke Wilson (Bottle Rocket, Rushmore, 3:10 to Yuma) appear among other, less notable character actors. I was disappointed to see David underutilized as Reverend Davis, another stock character in a film where not even the co-stars stood a chance at meaningful exchanges or believable and fun setups that never pay off. I firmly believe that Keith David has never fully been realized for his talent, though he has amassed an impression tally of over 150 television, film, and stage credits.
Thankfully Death at a Funeral is a lean 90 minutes and just when things look like they can’t get any worse, the plot slams the lid closed and the credits roll. The original film of the same name received higher marks and acceptance, reviewers and audiences perhaps more in-line with British farce and cheeky slapstick.
Oddly enough, amid mixed reviews, the film made a profit for director Neil LaBute whose previous works as writer and director include the stage play (1993) turned feature film (1997) In the Company of Men, Nurse Betty (2000), The Wicker Man (2006) and Lakeview Terrace in 2008 with Samuel Jackson as a Lose Angeles police officer on the edge of professional and personal calamity opposite Patrick Wilson and Kerry Washington. It is unclear why LaBute thought a remake that is virtually unchanged from such a recent film of the same name and plot would be widely successful or inherently acclaimed as a comedy worth mentioning. If his aim was to simply get in the proximity of the mark left by the first film, or any comedy before or since while assembling a roster of talented actors, I suppose he accomplished that; an under-achievement with next to zero theatrical sparkle.