Three years ago the British comedy Death at a Funeral was released to a mixture of high praise and put-downs, but despite the mixed reviews, it still won the audience award at both the U.S. Comedy Arts Festival, and the Locarno International Film Festival, and gained enough coverage to receive a, higher budgeted, U.S. remake; which opened in cinemas earlier this year.
The U.S. version of Death at a Funeral is a near scene-for-scene recreation of the British film; and begins with an undertaker delivering a coffin to a grieving son, only to realize that he has delivered the wrong body, when the son Aaron (Chris Rock, Dogma), who’s clearly black, finally convinces him that his father wasn’t Asian; setting the tone for the entire film.
Guests then begin to arrive in turn, each hoping to pay their respects to the departed, but each coming with their own set of baggage, or resentment, for the day, or the family that they have to spend it with; including Aaron and his brother Ryan (Martin Lawrence, Bad Boys), who have a sibling rivalry stemming back several years (originating from the fact that Ryan is a much more successful writer than his older brother, has moved away, and doesn’t help the family with money, yet is much more revered by their friends and family).
Cousin Elaine (Zoe Saldana, Avatar) comes to the funeral hoping to simply pay her respects to her dead uncle, but gets more than she bargained for when she hands her fiancee Oscar (James Marsden, X-Men) what she believes to be a valium (so that he can cope with the pressure of spending the day with her intimidating father), but what turns out to be an extremely potent form of ecstasy; leading to all manner of extreme outbursts, and daft comments, that are both embarrassing, difficult to cover-up, and made even worse by the fact that her father has brought her ex-boyfriend Derek (Luke Wilson, Middle Men) along to try and win her back.
And, as with any family gathering, there’s also the string of other relatives and family friends that fill out the occasion; such as family friend Norman (Tracy Morgan, 30 Rock), and the deceased’s extremely loud and outspoken, elderly, brother Russell (Danny Glover, Lethal Weapon); and who not only have their own gripes and reasons for not wanting to be there, but are free to gawp at the antics of the other attendees, and make everything seem just like that little bit more awkward.
There’s one guest however that attends the funeral with the sole purpose of making things awkward for the family (Aaron and Ryan specifically); as he turns up (and instantly stands out from the family; as while they are all around average height, and black, he’s a white midget) with a selection of photos proving that he was having an affair with Aaron and Ryan’s father; something that shocks them both, as they were unaware that their father was gay, and don’t wish for their mother to find out.
So with the stage set, and the Reverend (Keith David, Platoon) in place, the funeral begins; but has several stops and starts as family arguments, drug taking, and a money-grabbing midget, all seem to get in the way of mourning the deceased Mr Barnes; and everything from Aaron and Ryan’s sibling rivalry, to the relationship between Elaine and her father, and Uncle Russell’s bowels, bubble to the surface, and explode with absurdly comedic consequences.
So it’s odd, that with such a superb cast (as except for Samuel L. Jackson, Morgan Freeman, and Forest Whitaker, this film contains practically all of the most famous African/American actors in Hollywood), and clearly ludicrous situations, that Death at a Funeral isn’t actually that funny; it has several one-liners that are sure to make people laugh, and a few crazy situations that are seemingly funny on paper, but not too hilarious in execution, and generally lurches from one ridiculous scene to the next, with little in the way of substance.
Several of the characters relationships are taken from realistic ones that should be recognizable in all families (the young man who’s clearly scared of his girlfriend’s intimidating, and disapproving, father, the rivalry between siblings who spend little time together, and the elderly uncle who’s brash, brazen, and doesn’t have a nice word to say about anybody), yet the way in which Death at a Funeral plays out, none of them seem especially real, or engaging; to the point that no viewer will really care whether or not Aaron and Ryan patch things up, if their mother finds out her husband was sleeping with a male dwarf, or why Oscar ends up naked on the roof, and as such, it’s difficult to appreciate the character driven jokes.
It will also be difficult for a number of British viewers to engage with, as the remake of Death at a Funeral; which was quintessentially British in its original incarnation; is obviously not aimed at them, or even any white American’s; as this new take on a film that already had mixed reviews, is aimed solely at African/American viewers (the type that enjoy watching Moesha, My Wife and Kids, and The Jeffersons); yet does seem to do a pretty good job of pleasing its target audience.
There’s nothing special about the directing, and while the acting’s more than acceptable, the script is poor, and generates very few laughs; in fact the funniest thing in the whole movie, is hearing an elderly Danny Glover (who’s sitting on the toilet) re-use his Lethal Weapon catchphrase for what has to be the millionth time now (as it’s all but a given for him to say in anything he’s in); and for a comedy set at a funeral (that has limitless potential for awkward comedy), with revelations about a gay midget, accidental drug taking, and Keith David turning up to give the service, it’s quite a let down.
But while the film many be lacking in laughs, it’s picture presentation is superb; as it has fantastic levels of detail, excellent colour and contrast levels (even if the colour levels are a touch on the warm side), and blacks that are suitably deep and inky (even if shadow details aren’t the highest we’ve seen on a Blu-ray before).
Textures look great, and the entire image stays crystal clear, and razor sharp throughout, excellently demonstrating the accurate and naturalistic fleshtones that are on show, and as there are no visible print errors evident throughout the film, it’s clear that Death at a Funeral has a video quality that’s not quite demo worthy, but still very impressive.
The audio however lacks the quality of the picture, and is extremely generic throughout; and so, despite having accurately reproduced dialogue that’s clear, intelligible, and rarely gets lost amongst the background noise, it’s never enveloping or engaging, as it lacks all but the lightest ambience (meaning that crowded rooms often feel empty), and only really makes use of the surround channels to give some depth to the score; meaning that while it’s a perfectly serviceable mix, and one that’s clear and easy to listen to, it’s in no danger of astounding, or even engrossing, any listener.
Death at a Funeral’s special features, don’t instantly sound that extensive; as they consist of an audio commentary (which isn’t all that engaging, is fairly tame, and doesn’t provide an abundance of interesting production information, or anecdotes, but mainly generic conversation), a gag-reel (that’s actually funnier than the main movie), a collection of deleted scenes (which were rightfully cut, and would have dragged out their intended sections even more), and a couple of behind the scenes featurettes (where tha cast discuss everything from the original film, casting, and the film’s humour, to their individual characters, and the subject of death); but holds just about all the information a fan could ask for, with little filler, and the ability to play with MovieIQ enabled; making it a fairly successfully, but not all that flashy, selection of bonus material.
The Bottom Line:
In the end, the remake of Death at a Funeral was a pretty disappointing movie that failed to live up to its hilarious potential, and pretty excellent trailer; as despite having a superb cast, and a fairly interesting premise, there was little heart in the film, and not enough room for such a stellar cast to show their talents (as certain actors; especially Keith David; weren’t awarded enough screen-time, and just like the audience, were let down by the movie).
The Blu-ray release of the film is a pretty strong one, as the picture quality is impressively strong, and while the audio isn’t mind-blowingly impressive, it’s apt for the film, and shouldn’t put anybody off watching, and the special features serve to give fans a few extra laughs, and just enough background information to keep them satisfied.
So while this remake doesn’t really add anything fresh to the original, and is much more suited to fans of black sitcoms, than say fans of Ben Stiller, or Seth Rogen comedies, it does still have a few decent one-liners, and might be worth a rent, if you found the trailer amusing, and just can’t stop watching Family Matters.