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Death at a Funeral

Death at a Funeral

Rated R, 90 min. Directed by Neil LaBute. Starring Chris Rock, Martin Lawrence, Tracy Morgan, Zoe Saldana, Luke Wilson, James Marsden, Danny Glover, Columbus Short, Peter Dinklage, Loretta Devine, Regina Hall, Keith David.

REVIEWED By Kimberley Jones, Fri., April 23, 2010

The Brits invented the parlor farce and surely had an early patent on gallows humor, too, but Frank Oz's 2007 Death at a Funeral was a dud, never finding the right pitch at which to play the mounting hysteria of a funeral gone cataclysmically wrong (featuring blackmail, an accidental LSD dosing, and a dead body, for starters). Working with the same script (by Dean Craig) as the original UK film, American director LaBute takes a different tack. In the face of so much frenzy, he decides to, well, chill the fuck out. It mostly works, even as the mind reels at so much laid-backness and likableness from LaBute, the savage of off-Broadway and independent film (In the Company of Men). Rock, who also produced, stars as Aaron, whose recently passed father provides the titular funeral. Aaron is the eldest son, stuck in a rut as the responsible one while dreaming of becoming a writer like his younger brother, Ryan (Lawrence), a bestselling prat who uses his pop's funeral to prowl for jailbait. Aaron, then, is the one who has to keep the funeral running smoothly – no easy feat with a reverend on a deadline (David); a nasty, barky uncle with intestinal issues (Glover); his cousin's acid-tripping boyfriend stripping naked (played by Marsden with elastic-faced giddiness); and a mysterious stranger who claims to have intimate knowledge of the deceased (Dinklage, reprising his role from the British film). Rock, who previously worked with LaBute on the uneven 2000 comedy Nurse Betty, dials his antic charisma way down here for what is essentially the straight-man role, and Lawrence, all smooth-talking ladies' man in brand-name eyeglasses, plays against type, too. In the late Nineties and early Aughts, the pair defined broad, commercial comedy, but here they deliver not jokes but actual performances in this slight but agreeable picture. (A correction has been made to the review since original publication.)
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