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Vol. LXIV, No. 16
 
Wednesday, April 21, 2010
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Cinema

For more movie summaries, see Kam’s Kapsules.

WE ARE GATHERED HERE TODAY TO REMEMBER OUR BELOVED FATHER: The two sons, Aaron and Ryan (Chris Rock left, and Martin Lawrence) shown here in front of their their late father Edward’s coffin, are eulogizing him in the presence of the deceased’s extended family.

Death at a Funeral: A-List Cast Squandered in Blackface Remake of British Farce

Kam Williams

Death at a Funeral is an example of a production that sounded like it “couldn’t miss” when it was being pitched to the studio executives. After all, it’s a remake of a recent British hit that generated five times more revenue than its $9 million budget.

Theoretically, the fact that the original was released in 2007 shouldn’t be a problem because this movie, that has a predominantly African-American cast, is aimed at a different demographic. Furthermore, the main actors are three A-list comedians: Chris Rock, Tracy Morgan, and Martin Lawrence, who are supported by Keith David, Zoe Saldana, Danny Glover, and Loretta Devine.

Additionally, the director is Neil LaBute, who has made such critically-acclaimed indies as In the Company of Men and Your Friends & Neighbors. Unfortunately, while all of the above looks like a great combination, the blackface variation of the original adds up to far less than the sum of its parts.

Here’s why. Rather than rewrite the screenplay to reflect the African-American sense of comedy, LaBute chose a screenplay that appealed to a British audience. Apparently Chris Rock, Tracy Morgan, and Martin Lawrence were directed to stick to a script that allowed them little or no room to improvise in their trademark styles.

The movie is a farce that is reminiscent of an extended episode of slapstick BBC-TV sitcoms like Benny Hill, Mr. Bean, and Fawlty Towers. That is pretty good company, until you see black actors attempting to carry off that style of humor.

Death at a Funeral depicts an eventful day for an extended family that has gathered to mourn the passing of a beloved patriarch. Edward (Frank Minor) is survived by his wife Cynthia (Loretta Devine); his siblings, Russell (Danny Glover) and Duncan (Ron Glass); and their extended families.

The plot thickens with the arrival of a gay dwarf (Peter Dinklage) who demands a share of the inheritance because he is the deceased’s ex-lover. The sons Aaron and Ryan (Chris Rock and Martin Lawrence) agree to try to hide the dwarf’s claims from their mother since she had no idea that her late husband was cheating on her. This, of course, proves easier said than done.

Meanwhile, niece Elaine’s (Zoe Saldana) boyfriend Oscar (James Marsden) has accidentally taken several doses of LSD from a vial marked “Valium,” a running joke which is repeated by a couple of other guests. Eventually, Oscar ends up stark naked on the roof in front of all of the open-mouthed mourners. Later, Uncle Russell, also under the influence LSD, repeats Oscar’s performance. Apparently the scene was so hilarious that I guess the director just had to shoot it twice.

Everything comes to a head when, you’ll never guess who (actually, yes you will), dies unexpectedly and is hidden in the coffin together with his late lover’s corpse.

For this reviewer, the test of a comedy is how often it makes me laugh out loud. This one? Not at all.

Fair (1 star). Rated R for profanity, nudity, and drug use. Running time: 92 Minutes. Studio: Screen Gems.

For more movie summaries, see Kam’s Kapsules.

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