Death at a Funeral or Hear Me Roar!

Ash Isaac

Anyone who saw the original British version of this film would probably have come away thinking that there was no way that this lightweight, sporadically entertaining, but mainly clunky comedy would ever warrant a sequel, let alone a Hollywood reinterpretation. Step forward, Chris Rock. The comedic superstar clearly gleaned a hitherto unforeseen level of profundity and enlightenment that prompted the production of this lightweight, sporadically entertaining, but mainly clunky remake.

Rock stars as Aaron, a man attempting to hold the funeral for his recently deceased father and simultaneously struggling with the much more onerous task of keeping all the attending friends and relatives in check. The famous saying goes that all happy families are happy in the same way, but every unhappy family is unhappy or, more accurately, dysfunctional in their own way. We’ve got disapproving fathers, disapproving mothers, quarrelling couples, lovelorn singles, bitter outsiders, cantankerous elders, incompetent undertakers and a dead patriarch who refuses to stay put in his coffin. It sounds a whole lot more interesting than it actually is.

Martin Lawrence thankfully foregoes the drag queen slapstick routine of Big Momma’s House and plays it relatively cool as Ryan, Aaron’s younger, more successful brother who’s more interested in leering at the female mourners than playing the part of the bereaved son. In fact, most of the mourners are operating under the conventional funeral rules in attending either a) to make sure the deceased is really dead, b) to enjoy some delicious wake catering, c) to check on those family members you never really see and find out who’s got divorced/fat.

A lot of the humour entails the basic proposition that dwarves are intrinsically hilarious. If you extend this basic comedy fundamental to include a gay, coffin-hopping extortionist then you have yourself a veritable laugh riot. Peter Dinklage, in his pre-Lannister days, is the proverbial dwarf in the ointment who causes befuddlement amongst all the other mourners by his very presence. When he reveals to Aaron and Ryan that he was their father’s secret lover, Frank, (they met through Grindr), for a number of years they are naturally sceptical until he provides graphic photographic evidence of the relationship. He follows it up with a demand for $30,000 or the photos get uploaded to Instagram duly breaking their mother’s heart.

Aaron and Ryan do the only thing you can do when confronted with a knee-high blackmailer. They restrain him, drug him and then, when it appears as though he has choked to death, they dump him in the coffin along with their dead father, which just goes to show some bonds are just too strong to be broken through a minor nuisance such as death. Naturally enough, Frank is not dead and topples the coffin over in front of the gathered throng before emerging, red-eyed and hallucinating, like a really inappropriate magic trick. Hilarity, of course, ensues. Kind of.

The most impressive thing about Death at a Funeral is the ensemble cast and production crew, who have all done bigger and better things and most likely saw this as a nice, phone-it-in film where the level of actual work involved would be on the minimal side and the pay cheque involved would be on the substantial side. The bulk of the action is transposed almost verbatim from the original to the shinier, slicker Hollywood settings with star power amped up and the shock value wound firmly down. It could be described as a ‘faithful’ adaptation, but ‘lazy’ would be the much more appropriate adjective. Of course, it is the type of laziness that makes millions at the box office, bores critics and then disappears without a trace.

Rock made his name with the type of edgy, caustic, in-your-face humour that is so palpably lacking in this safe, by-the-numbers effort and it’s almost easy to forget that this film contains not one but four professional comedians, such is the dearth of genuine laughs. Watch Dinklage in Game of Thrones or The Station Agent, watch Chris Rock do stand-up, watch Martin Lawrence in…uh…okay, forget watching Martin Lawrence in anything. Just watch Game of Thrones. It’s ace.

About Ash Isaac

I am a contributor of questionable taste, origin and talent. My one claim to fame is that I was born in the same hospital as Cliff Richard. I am still in possession of my soul unlike Sir Cliff who sold his to Samael the Desolate in return for eternal youth and the friendship of Sue Barker.