Saturday, April 17, 2010

Death at a Funeral (2010)

As far as Chris Rock comedies go, Death at a Funeral is by and large the most enjoyable and accomplished.  It isn’t always as sharp or as crass, as edgy or as fresh as his earlier efforts, but it’s the work of a man growing up and coming into his own.  So it’s appropriate that Death is a family film while at the same time, as a Chris Rock flick, not especially appropriate for the family.

  Directed by Neil Labute and, in a rare occurrence, adapted by Dean Craig from his own 2007 screenplay (originally produced independently in the UK, with Frank Oz at the helm), the new, studio version of Death is filled with enjoyable faces navigating farcical stories taking place at the funeral of the family patriarch.  Rock plays Aaron, the eldest son bearing the brunt of the funeral (and life) responsibilities.  His successful brother Ryan (Martin Lawrence) is too busy “grieving” and living life to be weighed down by family duties.  His wife Michelle (Regina Hall) is obsessed with getting pregnant while still on her cycle so she can shut up Aaron’s overbearing mom (Loretta Devine), even if that means making sure it happens today.  His cousin Elaine (Zoe Saldana) drugged up her fiancé, Oscar (James Marsden), so he’d survive being in the same room with his soon-to-be father-in-law, but she accidentally switched his meds with acid.  Then there’s the “little person” (Peter Dinklage) who’s crashed the funeral claiming Aaron’s daddy was secretly gay.
  Needless to say, everything falls apart and Aaron’s forced to manage the hilarity, all the while overcoming HIS OWN character setbacks so he can become the new family figurehead...

  You may have gathered by now that Death is situational and somewhat predictable, but it’s also a good deal of fun.  Rock plays the straight man well, and only occasionally feels clunky - as an actor, he’s come a long way.  And that becomes painfully obvious when he’s paired with Tracy Morgan as the film’s friendly buffoon.  Tracy isn’t nearly as bad here as he was earlier this year in Cop Out, mostly because he’s largely restrained.  He’s still a long way from Rockefeller Center.

  Thankfully, the rest of the cast picks things up when Rock or the film’s plodding pace occasionally stumble.  Marsden plays the classic “drugged” joke well, even if the film relies on it too much.  The rest of the surrounding cast (which also includes Luke Wilson, Danny Glover and Columbus Short) proves reliable and sufficient enough to keep the fun flowing.

  Death at a Funeral is rated R, but it’s a clean R – the characters are well-off, law-abiding citizens with fowl mouths, their crimes occasionally immoral but always misdemeanors.  So this isn’t a statement film, or a heartwarming movie about a family that rises up and comes together, even if it occasionally sprinkles a little of that drama in its otherwise sugary cake.  This is above all else a comedy, and a consistent one.  And that’s the best thing I’ve been able to say about a Chris Rock project in a long, long time.

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