Being green is a concept that Hollywood obviously has taken seriously with remakes of “Clash of the Titans” already released this year and the upcoming re-imagining of “A Nightmare on Elm Street” and up to 75 more remakes and reboots rumored to be in various stages of production. A lot of these remakes have been plucked from the generations past, like “Creature from the Black Lagoon” and “Ghostbusters” but the American version of “Death at a Funeral” is based off a British film made only three years ago.
This 2010 rendition stars Chris Rock (“I Think I Love My Wife) and Martin Lawrence (“Wild Hogs) as brothers, Aaron and Ryan who discover their recently deceased father had a secret for which they are being blackmailed by a mysterious man named Frank (Peter Dinklage reprising his role of Frank from the original) at the funeral which is held in the family home. The brother’s efforts to keep the secret under wraps form one of the movie’s two simultaneous threads.
The other plot line is constructed from the attempts of siblings Elaine (“Avatar”’s Zoe Saldana) and Jeff (Stomp the Yard”’s Colombus Short) to conceal the accidental drugging of her fiancé, Oscar (James Marsden of the “X-Men” franchise) who is nervous about attending the funeral and being put through the paces of Elaine and Jeff’s disapproving father, Duncan (Ron Glass). Trying to relax Oscar, Elaine gives him what she believes is Valium, but is in reality a powerful designer hallucinogen that Jeff, a pharmaceutical student, has developed.
Despite the two comedic heavyweights of Rock and Lawrence headlining “Death at Funeral,” Marsden’s performance is truly the funniest of the movie.
That being said though, what starts out as a potentially, really funny premise - self-conscious white guy, involuntarily hallucinating and seriously freaking out at an all black family function - becomes a really old and tired joke after awhile.
Most of the dialogue and scenes that are intended to be hilarious only come off as slightly amusing and thus disappointing especially considering so many superstars of stand-up were cast as the films main characters.
Curiously enough though, Tracy Morgan (30 Rock) gives one of his best screen performances to date as family friend Norman, who has been tasked with watching over crotchety old Uncle Russell (“The Color Purple”’s Danny Glover). To his and the film’s credit, Morgan, for once in his career doesn’t try too hard at being funny, but instead allows the outlandish situations his character lands in to support a truly comedic execution of his lines.
Usually, with Tracy or Marsden onscreen, most of the movies funniest scenes are some of it’s most disgusting and disturbing moments but they are so sporadically set throughout director Neil Labute’s (Lakeview Terrace) screwball comedy effort that you find yourself consciously waiting for the next laugh.
Regina Hall, Loretta Devine, Keith David and Ron Glass do an adequate job as the supporting cast never outshining the films major players who at times seemed to be sleepwalking through their performances. If this film is the older and more mature Chris Rock and Martin Lawrence’s attempt at an ensemble blockbuster, the likes of Ocean’s 11,12 and 13 or the 1981’s Cannonball Run, the result falls short of the benchmark by a pretty wide margin.
One could argue the fact that since both Chris Rock and Tracy Morgan are Saturday Night Live alumni is the reason why this movie feels so much like an extended SNL sketch in need of some heavy handed editing. But that point probably won’t generate as much discussion as the “should they have even remade this?” and the “is it racist or not to remake a movie with a predominantly black cast?” debates that have already sprouted up on message boards on the Internet.
It’s unfortunate that the society in which we live so many discussions about politics, economics, sports and even movies seems to degenerate into an argument about race. Outstanding performances usually transcend the conflict, but sadly, “Death at a Funeral” being so mediocre, just doesn’t provide that inspiring catalyst. It doesn’t even provoke many laughs which is disappointing considering the talent associated to the names on the marquee.