April 22, 2010

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Death at a Funeral (R)
Chris Rock helms Death at a Funeral, a so-so remake of a so-so British comedy.

Aaron (Rock) is the oldest brother and is therefore in charge of the funeral of his father. He has to rein in his mother (Loretta Devine); get some participation from his ne’er-do-well brother Ryan (Martin Lawrence), a famous but broke author; corral his uncle Duncan (Ron Glass) and two cousins, Jeff (Columbus Short) and Elaine (Zoe Saldana), whose fiancé Oscar (James Marsden) is nervous about how her father will feel when they tell him of their engagement; keep the Rev. Davis (Keith David) from leaving before they’re done with the service; keep his conception-focused wife Michelle (Regina Hall) from tackling him, and keep cranky Uncle Russell (Danny Glover) happy. Tracy Morgan also shows up in there somewhere to make his Tracy Morgan jokes and, eventually, to get pooped on.

And then there’s Peter Dinklage, this movie’s common thread with the British original. As in the original movie, he shows up to tell Aaron about his heretofore unknown relationship with the departed. Not the sort of thing Aaron wants his near-hysterics mother to find out about.

This Death at a Funeral is funnier than the previous Death at a Funeral in the way that having swine flu is better than having cancer. Sure, it’s an improvement, but in neither circumstance are you “woo-hoo”ing. As with the first Death, this Death has a stale joke flavor. Yes, accidental drug-dosing antics, poop on the hand, secret gay lover — it’s all very textbook Wacky.

This movie keeps from being the draggy bore that I remember the British movie being because of a few things: (1) Chris Rock’s line delivery is often still kinda funny even when the lines he’s delivering aren’t, (2) Tracy Morgan is always on Tracy Jordan “live every week like it’s Shark Week” speed and that’s just fine with me and (3) Peter Dinklage (who was the sole bright spot in the British movie) is still pretty great. Though not the complete delight here that he is when a role lets him be a snotty bad-ass with a swagger (which happens quite a lot, thankfully), Dinklage still improves whatever scene he’s in.

Worth the price of admission? Only if that price is $1 as part of bargain day deal. But someday when it’s in the On Demand free movie section and you can fast forward to just the Tracy Morgan and Peter Dinklage scenes, it will be worth the pennies you pay for it. C

Rated R for language and drug content. Directed by Neil LaBute and written by Dean Craig, Death at a Funeral is an hour and 30 minutes long and distributed in wide release by Sony Pictures.