With Chris Rock, Martin Lawrence, Loretta Devine, Danny Glover and Peter Dinklage; Directed by Neil LaBute; Rated [R] (for language, drug content and some sexual humor); 93 minutes.
In 2007 Frank Oz directed a movie called “Death At A Funeral,” about a family gathering to mourn the lost of its patriarch. Over the course of the film, family secrets come out, along with hallucinogenic drugs, human excrement, and the corpse. It was shot in English in England and was a horribly unfunny film. Indeed, it was one of the worst films of the year.
Naturally, this recommended the film for a remake less than three years later, directed by Neil LaBute. This DEATH AT A FUNERAL is virtually the same film (screenwriter Dean Craig is the perpetrator of both scripts), complete with family secrets, hallucinogenic drugs, human excrement and the corpse. This may be the most unnecessary remake since Gus van Sant redid “Psycho.”
Ah, but there’s a big difference here. See, they moved the action to California and they’ve made the family African-American. Now the two brothers are Chris Rock and Martin Lawrence, with Lawrence playing the younger and more successful of the two. Danny Glover is the cantankerous old man who hits people for no reason and later, in a duplicate of the low point of the first film, relieves himself on his nephew (Tracy Morgan). Classy actors like Loretta Devine, Ron Glass and Keith David took the paycheck for walking through this mess, and Peter Dinklage reprises his role as the man who shows up with a secret about the deceased.
In fact, none of this makes any difference at all. There’s a few lines that reflect the change of venue and cast, but essentially this is the same lousy film that didn’t work last time. LaBute is a much better choice for director, as anyone who has sat through his misanthropic films will tell you. He’s in his element showing his contempt for these idiots, losers, and self-absorbed twits, and so it is possible to say this is “better” than the original. However, keeping with the spirit of the film, that’s like using air freshener after someone has gotten violently ill instead of actually cleaning it up. It may be marginally better, but it’s still something you wish would go away.
As with the first film, the problem is we don’t actually care about any of these people. Rock’s character has to deliver the eulogy but is in shadow of his brother, a best-selling author. He’s supposed to be a sympathetic character but he mostly gets to whine. Unfortunately, he’s the nicest of all the people we meet. You begin to understand why the patriarch of this family is in the box. He couldn’t wait to get away from these people either.
If this film is successful one dreads what could happen next. “Death At A Funeral” with a Latino cast? An Asian cast? A Jewish cast? It wouldn’t make a difference. This new “Death At A Funeral” is an indictment of a movie industry that has been criticized for running out of ideas. Now, it seems, they’re no longer even bothering to hide it.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books, the most recent being I’ll Have What She’s Having: Behind The Scenes Of The Great Romantic Comedies. He teaches film at Suffolk University and lives in Brookline.