Review: 'Death at a Funeral'
By Ann Hornaday
Friday, April 16, 2010
Danny Glover hurls his own vulgar verbal ordnance in "Death at a Funeral," Neil LaBute's adaptation of the 2007 British comedy. Glover plays Uncle Russell, a cantankerous old coot in a wheelchair who swears a blue streak and has nary a kind word for anybody at the funeral of his brother, Edward. A close cousin of the swearing-kid shtick, the swearing-old-man shtick here is played strictly for cheap, lazy laughs. But it's entirely in keeping with the original movie, whose antic -- if creaky -- idea of humor included an errant corpse, wincingly graphic bathroom humor, sophomoric references to homosexuality and a man tripping on LSD while traipsing naked on a rooftop.
In the current version of "Death at a Funeral," that dosed character is played by James Marsden, who, as he did in "Enchanted" and "Hairspray," threatens to steal the whole show in a cheekily funny physical performance. He rounds out an appealing cast that includes Chris Rock and Martin Lawrence as the competitive sons of the deceased, Zoe Saldana as Marsden's character's fiancee and Tracy Morgan as the family friend who comes in for the film's most punishing sight gag (or, more accurately, sight-and-smell gag, involving the aforementioned hideous bathroom humor).
Fans of the broad slapstick and ludicrous farce that propelled the original "Death at a Funeral" will be well served by the remake, although it's a mystery why LaBute -- a brilliant playwright with a bold, acidly satiric voice-- would be compelled to direct someone else's script (both were written by Dean Craig). He's clearly a man who thinks in words, not images, as the film's undistinguished, sepulchral visual sense attests.
Still, if for the most part "Death at a Funeral" is as tame as the tasteful parlor where most of its action takes place, it manages to explode one taboo, in casting mostly black actors in roles originally played by whites. (Rock, who produced "Death at a Funeral," did the same thing with "I Think I Love My Wife," a remake of the 1972 French movie "Chloe in the Afternoon.") It's a simple but important evolution for a medium in which for too long race-neutral stories have been cast only in one color. Black may not be the new white, but "Death at a Funeral" offers modest hope for a new normal that happens to look a lot more like life.
Contains profanity and drug content.