Chris Rock is in a good mood. The comedian, writer, actor, director and producer who is promoting his latest flick, “Death at a Funeral” already has an idea of how he would like his own funeral to play out. “I want all the living presidents there. I want them all to be in shorts and I want Jay-Z to rap the eulogy,” jokes Rock at a press conference in Beverly Hills.
Based on director Frank Oz (“Bowfinger”) and writer Dean Craig’s funeral farce and transported from the English countryside to sunny Pasadena, California, “Death at a Funeral,” which was originally made in 2007, chronicles the chaotic misadventures of an extended family at their father's funeral and is a movie Rock cites as one of his favorite comedies hence a remake.
“One of the reasons I wanted to remake it is that I saw the original movie in a little theatre with ten people and we were laughing our asses off. It was amazing and I thought the jokes would work in America,” Rock says. “It had a lot of funny parts and it was perfect for me, for death and funerals are something everyone relates to.”
With a cast which includes Martin Lawrence, Tracy Morgan and Luke Wilson, Regina Hall plays Rock’s onscreen wife, Zoe Saldana and Columbus Short play siblings, whilst Rock and Lawrence star as contentious brothers who unite to plan their father’s funeral.
Directed by Neil LaBute (“Lakeview Terrace”), the writer/director who has built a stellar reputation with controversial dramas, such as “In the Company of Men,” “Death” is a faithful adaptation of the original and follows a dysfunctional family that reunites for a disastrous funeral. As is often the case with any family, there are secrets, jealousies, rivalries, and of course, a lot of wacky eccentricities.
With a large ensemble that also includes Keith David, James Marsden, Peter Dinklage and Danny Glover as the grouchy Uncle Russell, actress Loretta Devine rounds off the cast as the matriarch, Cynthia.
“Just by having new actors in the roles makes it work differently. With a story as strong as the original, we didn’t try to reinvent the wheel,” claims LaBute.
Dinklage, who reprises his role from the original movie, plays a mysterious guest who threatens to unveil an earth-shattering family secret and was a huge asset to the remake.
“He came up with another version of the character and it’s a fun approach. Here he’s played it a little rougher and a little more cavalier,” continues Labute who was initially approached by Rock to direct the movie and first worked with him ten years ago on “Nurse Betty” when the comedian was just starting to transition into film acting.
An outrageously funny flick which mischievously explores what happens on the day when a typically divided family is finally forced to come to terms with each other’s bad behavior, it brings together a collection of top comedic talents and skilled actors to play the extended clan of the story. It’s an eclectic cast who all credit funnyman Rock as being their attraction to join the production.
“The attraction for me was the fact that I’d get a chance to work with Chris,” says Devine. “I’m still a little nervous around him because he’II say things like, ‘so were you in Sounder?’ I’m like, Hell no, I wasn’t in no damn Sounder! Excuse me, that [movie] was 90 years ago!’ You never know what he is going to say and you just never know whether he’s joking or not,” she says.
As for Lawrence, who plays the self absorbed younger brother, his longtime association with Rock was instrumental in bringing him onboard.
“My man Chris gave me a call personally and when he first called I was like sorry Chris, I can’t do that,” jokes Lawrence. “But then he sent me the British version and I thought it was funny and when he told me I would be playing his brother, I knew I had to get involved. We go back to stand-up days performing together and after being on the road and hanging out every now and then, it was nice for us to come together years later and do a film together,” he adds.
Tracy Morgan, who stars as Norman, a close friend of the family previously worked on the earlier “Chris Rock Show” and “Death” gave him a chance to work with his heroes Rock and Martin Lawrence.
The movie, which began life as a British release made a splash at the Aspen Film Festival, wining the prestigious Cinemax Award and although it didn’t attract much of an audience in the United States, it’s clearly something Rock intends to change with this remake.
“It seemed like we could make a different movie and the same movie at the same time,” he says. “The bones of the movie are pretty much the same,” he continues. “I don’t look at it as a remake. It’s more like a cover song.”
“Expect to laugh,” adds Labute. “It’s a funny take on family dynamics at a moment of real stress. It’s also a meditation on what it’s like to have siblings and how a house can be torn apart by an event like a funeral. We took normal situations and made them completely abnormal and its fun to watch that play out on the screen.”