By Brian Lafferty
April 16, 2010 (San Diego's East County) -- As I walked out of the theater after watching Death at a Funeral, I was reminded of something the great director Howard Hawks once said about what makes a good movie: three great scenes, no bad ones. There are three hilarious, uproarious scenes which had me literally gasping for air from laughing so hard. At the same time, there was not a single scene that didn't work.
Death at a Funeral is a remake of the 2007 British film of the same name, and also written by the same screenwriter, Dean Craig. It contains a lot of my favorite actors. There’s Chris Rock and Martin Lawrence as Aaron and Ryan, the sons of the deceased, whose funeral is the setting for the ensuing madcap. There’s Zoe Saldana as the man’s niece, Elaine, and James Marsden as her husband, Oscar. Tracy Morgan is the close friend of the family, Norman. Danny Glover plays the perpetually grouchy Uncle Russell. Ron Glass (from TV’s Barney Miller), Loretta Devine, Luke Wilson, and Peter Dinklage (reprising his role from the original) round out the cast.
The acting is top-notch. Chris Rock is funny, as always, but the ensemble cast has their moments. Tracy Morgan uses his trademark overly aggressive humor to give a great performance as a hypochondriac. He and Danny Glover have tremendous chemistry together. They both deliver the movie’s most side-splitting hilarious scene.
The screenplay equally balances the plots and consistently maintains the humor in each of them. One of the funnier subplots involves Marsden as Oscar. Suffering from anxiety, his wife gives him what she thinks is Valium but is really her brother’s acid. At one point Oscar opens the coffin during the service thinking someone is alive in there. He later walks on the roof in full view of everybody…completely naked. Meanwhile, Frank (Peter Dinklage), a dwarf bitter about being left out of the will, blackmails the brothers with an embarrassing secret about their late father.
These subplots illustrate one of the movie’s bigger strengths: the abundance of unpredictable humor. Oscar is so high you never know what embarrassing thing he’ll do next. The family members’ reactions to the racy photographs Frank gives them are funny every time. There were moments when I thought I could see some of the punch lines coming a mile away. Yet, when these punch lines arrived one of two things happened: either they were still flat-out funny or the screenplay took the gags in a different direction. Either way, the end result was a laugh.
The timing of each gag is perfect. This picture elicited all sorts of laughs from me. There were chuckles, giggles, small laughs, and then there were the real hearty laughs, the kind that made it hard to breathe. This movie may be called Death at a Funeral but it is full of life.
A Screen Gems release. Director: Neil LaBute. Screenplay: Dean Craig. Original Music: Christophe Beck. Cinematography: Rogier Stoffers. Cast: Loretta Devine, Peter Dinklage, Danny Glover, Regina Hall, Martin Lawrence, James Marsden, Tracy Morgan, Chris Rock, Zoe Saldana, Columbus Short, Luke Wilson, Keith David, and Ron Glass. Running Time: 91 minutes. Rated R.