Remaking a critically acclaimed film that’s only three years old can be a risky venture, even if a majority of the public doesn’t know the original exists. This is the case with Chris Rock’s Death at a Funeral, a remake of the British Frank Oz film that’s been hailed as a comedy classic, that aims to give the film an American edge in an attempt to reach the audiences that the original missed. Does it work? Well, yes and no; though luckily they stayed close enough to the source material that the film can almost be viewed as an homage to the original, even if it wasn’t exactly asked for or needed.
The story is simplistic in premise: Aaron (Chris Rock) is holding a funeral for his father at his parent’s home, and friends and family arrive to mourn the loss together. It’s comedic in the fact that the funeral is anything but simple, because right from the moment the coffin arrives it contains the wrong body inside – not just the wrong body, but the wrong race entirely – to which Aaron asks the funeral home attendant, “Who’s this in the coffin? ‘Cause that’s not my father.” The attendant, thinking Aaron is just grieving and thus not thinking straight says, “Are you sure?” to which Aaron responds, “Look at the damn body, man! You got Jackie Chain in there!”
This is just one of the many scenarios that plague Aaron on a day where he just wants to say goodbye to his father, and try to move on. Add on the fact that his wife (Regina Hall) is ovulating, and reminding him that they need to take advantage of the moment every chance she gets; that his brother Ryan (Martin Lawrence), a bestselling author, is flying into town first-class, yet doesn’t have the money to help pay for the funeral; and to top it off a mysterious stranger (Peter Dinklage, who reprises his role from the original) shows up with a secret that could cost Aaron more than just his sanity. Even with all this taking place, it’s still just the tip of the iceberg as far as what else goes wrong on this day.
While Rock, Lawrence and a solid supporting cast consisting of Tracey Morgan, Zoe Saldana, Luke Wilson, and Danny Glover to name a few do a good job at bringing the laughs throughout, those who have seen the original will no doubt notice the feeling that the entire funeral seems like an extended comedy sketch instead of an actual funeral where outrageous events occur, whereas the British version felt as though everything that happened was completely plausible.
Comparisons like this are inevitable, but that’s not to say that this version of Death at a Funeral isn’t entertaining. Having just seen the original a few months prior I wondered just how much I’d laugh at a film that pretty much treads over the same ground with a few new jokes laced in every so often, though I was pleasantly surprised. While it may not hold the same feeling of realism as its predecessor, Rock’s Death at a Funeral is often laugh out loud funny, and those who missed the British version, or aren’t fans of their accents (hey, to some a British film might as well be considered foreign) will likely find it quite enjoyable.
One person I left out is James Marsden, who just like Alan Tudyk in the original, steals the show as Oscar, Elaine’s (Saldana) boyfriend who’s so nervous about trying to impress her father (Ron Glass) that he takes a pill he thinks is Valium, but instead is a homemade hallucinogenic concoction made by Elaine’s brother (Columbus Short). Marsden is hilarious, and once again shows why he should be a bigger player in Hollywood, as every time he’s off-screen, you’re just waiting for him to appear once again to see what he‘ll do next.
Rock’s Death at a Funeral is a worthwhile piece of entertainment that may not step out of the shadow of the original, but I believe by the way Rock praises the British version, that he’s fine with that, and in turn, we should be too. It’s a good time to be had, with solid performances by all involved, and while you may not die laughing as the DVD cover implies, you won’t die of boredom either.
The film is presented here in 2.40:1 Anamorphic Widescreen, and it looks quite good. While the film takes place mainly in one place, the colours are still sharp, and there’s no grainy visuals to be found here. The audio is 5.1 Dolby Digital, and can be put in the same position as the video quality, as there’s no reaching for the volume to constantly adjust between dialogue and music. To be fair, music isn’t a big part of the film, but the dialogue is clear, and you’re never straining to hear what characters are saying, which is always a plus.
Commentary with Director Neil Labute and Chris Rock – Rock really loves this film, and he really loves the source material, and it’s great that he got involved with the extras to the film as well. There are a lot of times where you wish more actors would get involved in commentaries, though obviously time constraints and other commitments make it understandable why it doesn’t happen that often.
Death at a Funeral: Last Rites, Dark Secrets – This featurette is a 20 minute look behind the scenes at the making of the film. It’s a pretty standard making-of feature, with actors talking about working with one another, and Rock talking about seeing the original and why he wanted to make a remake so soon after.
Family Album – This is a pretty neat featurette, even though it’s all fluff. Here, we have a family tree of those involved in the film, and when you click on a picture of a character, the actor who plays the part gives a description of their character to the viewer.
Death for Real – Just under six minutes of the cast and crew talking about death and their take on it.
Deleted Scenes and a Gag reel round out the special features, which overall were pretty solid.
Death at a Funeral is an entertaining way to spend 90 minutes, especially if you haven’t seen the original film. The laughs are there, and the delivery is spot-on by all involved – especially Marsden, who is worth the price of a rental alone. If a remake had to be made, at least it was done so by Chris Rock, someone who showed he really cared about the source material with how closely they stuck to it, with just enough changed to give it its own flavour.
Screen Gems presents a Sidney Kimmel Entertainment/Parabolic Pictures/Wonderful Films/Stable Way Entertainment production Death at a Funeral. Directed by: Neil Labute. Starring: Chris Rock, Martin Lawrence, James Marsden, Peter Dinklage, Danny Glover, Tracey Morgan, Zoe Saldana, Luke Wilson. Written by: Dean Craig. Running time: 92 Minutes. Rating: PG-13. Released on DVD: Aug 10, 2010.
Brendan Campbell was here when Inside Pulse Movies began, and he’ll be here when it finishes - in 2012, when a cataclysmic event wipes out the servers, as well as everyone else on the planet other than John Cusack and those close to him. Brendan’s the #1 supporter of Keanu Reeves, a huge fan of popcorn flicks and a firm believer that sheer entertainment can take a film a long way. He currently resides in Canada, where, for reasons stated above, he’s attempting to get closer to John Cusack.