Death at a Funeral (2010)


Death at a Funeral (2010)

Chris Rock and Martin Lawrence wonder if they should have remade Four Weddings and a Funeral instead.

(2010) Urban Comedy (Screen Gems) Chris Rock, Martin Lawrence, Tracy Morgan, Loretta Devine, Danny Glover, Peter Dinklage, James Marsden, Luke Wilson, Zoe Saldana, Ron Glass, Columbus Short, Regina Hall, Keith David, Kevin Hart. Directed by Neil LaBute

A funeral is a time for somber reflection, to celebrate the life of someone who’s passed on. It is not a time for hi-jinks, which is why a movie about such tomfoolery is ripe to be funny – and was, in a 2007 British movie on which this was based.

The patriarch of an African-American family has passed away and his son Aaron (Rock) is organizing the funeral at the family home per daddy’s instructions. Aaron has dreams of being a writer, like his successful brother Ryan (Lawrence). Aaron’s mother (Devine) wants a grandchild, the lack of which she attributes for her husband’s death. His wife Michelle (Hall) is with mom, but she also wants to see Aaron give up on his dream and get to reality.

There are others coming to the funeral. Cantankerous Uncle Russell (Glover), Norman (Morgan) the hypochondriac, Elaine (Saldana) who has accidentally slipped her nervous white boyfriend Oscar (Marsden) a powerful hallucinogenic, and Derek (Wilson), Elaine’s ex who would love to get her back.

Throw in Frank (Dinklage), who had a homoerotic affair with the deceased and now wants to get paid (which astonishes Aaron that his brother is upset about it – not that Daddy’s butt buddy is short but that he’s white) and a mix-up regarding who’s in the coffin and you’ve got hi-jinks at a funeral, which is pretty much what a good comedy pitch would be.

Director LaBute has some of the most accomplished comics of our generation working in this movie; in all honesty, this should have been way funnier than it was. The problem here is not with the talent but with the energy – it seems to be more shtick than inspired. There are plenty of bits and some of them are rather funny – Marsden nearly steals the movie with his spaced out yuppie. Mostly the problem is that the characters are just so one –dimensional; they seem to exist to fill spots in the shtick, rather than to be living, breathing people for the viewer to relate to.

Rock, who is one of the funniest men on the planet when he is doing his own material, seems curiously subdued and even bored. He goes through the motions to my mind, and in many ways that’s the most egregious disappointment here. I really like Rock as a comedian and a comic actor but this seemed to lack energy and focus. I suspect he found the role to be so underwritten that he kind of just decided to phone things in.

Lawrence fares a little better but only a little bit. He has a bit more manic energy than the others, which helps him stand out. At the end of the day, however, his character is a bundle of clichés that never really gels into a cohesive whole. He does his best with it but by the end of the movie you can scarcely remember who he was playing or what motivated him.

Other than Dinklage and Marsden, most of the supporting cast is equally as forgettable and that’s a bloody shame. There is enormous talent here and it’s almost criminal that it was squandered so miserably. The movie that this was based on (and re-written by the original scribe) had some issues as well – that movie went for stuffy a little bit more than it needed to. Somewhere in between that movie and this one there is a comedy classic, but sadly it never really manifested itself in either movie. There are moments here that underscore the potential, but not enough to make you wish that the movie was the one in the coffin.

WHY RENT THIS: There are some great comedians in this movie.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: They don’t really have a lot to work with.

FAMILY VALUES: There is some drug use as well as a fair bit of foul language and a bit of sexually based humor.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Peter Dinklage is the only actor to appear in both the 2007 movie and the remake in the same role.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There is a gag reel and on the opposite end of the spectrum, a featurette in which the cast gives their thoughts on death and grieving. Huh?

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $49.1M on a $24M production budget; the movie was slightly profitable.

FINAL RATING: 4/10

TOMORROW: Jane Eyre (2011)

Lakeview Terrace


Lakeview Terrace

If I had Samuel L. Jackson glaring at me this way, I think I'd run.

(Screen Gems) Samuel L. Jackson, Patrick Wilson, Kerry Washington, Regine Nehy, Jaishon Fisher, Ron Glass, Justin Chambers, Jay Hernandez. Directed by Neil LaBute

Moving into a new neighborhood is always stressful. One hopes that they have nice neighbors, or at least neighbors who will leave you the heck alone. That isn’t always what you get, however.

Chris (Wilson) and Lisa (Washington) Mattson have moved into a new house in an affluent neighborhood on a cul-de-sac called Lakeview Terrace. They are an interracial couple; Chris is white, his wife African-American. That shouldn’t attract much attention in this day and age.

Except it does, particularly from their next door neighbor Abel Turner (Jackson) who disapproves of their relationship. The fact that the two are so obviously affectionate with each other, particularly in front of his children Marcus (Fisher) and Celia (Nehy) further bothers him. He begins to create little annoyances, bent on making their stay in the neighborhood uncomfortable.

For the most part, the couple tries to ignore the pettiness going on but Chris’ masculine pride gets in the way and the incidents begin to escalate. The fact that Abel is a police officer makes going to the authorities nearly impossible. Further adding to the tension is a wildfire burning in the Los Angeles hills near their neighborhood which threatens to burn out of control, much as the situation between Chris and Abel is getting.

Director LaBute is also a noted playwright along with being a film director with some pretty fine films to his credit (In the Company of Men and Nurse Betty among them). He specializes in depicting situations designed to make the audience uncomfortable, something I like to applaud. When we are made uncomfortable, we have a tendency to examine our feelings in order to determine what about the situation makes us uncomfortable. In turn, we begin to learn a little bit about ourselves.

None of the lead characters are especially likable and that’s the way LaBute likes it. Abel, for example, isn’t a cut and dried villain. There are times we feel sympathy for the man, but at the end of the day he is a racist, pure and simple, regardless of the things that got him there. Jackson is a superb actor and only someone of his caliber could make an audience be sympathetic for a character who in lesser hands would be simply the villain.

He has a fine actor to work off of in Patrick Wilson. Wilson’s Chris is a liberal on the outside but is goaded into playing Abel’s game, which leads to friction with Lisa. Lisa’s father (Glass) puts further strain on the relationship with his own disapproval of the relationship, asking Chris “Are you planning to have children with my daughter” in a tone that makes no mistake that he hopes the answer will be “no.”

Interracial relationships are far more common in the 21st century than they were in the last and it is us older folks who seem to have the most problems with it. It is nice to see a movie that treats these relationships with such candor, neither taking for granted that the relationship is acceptable nor ignoring the difficulties that come with a mixed marriage, to use an archaic term. That it’s still an issue is actually a little bit depressing.

Still, the movie works as a thriller for the most part, other than the ending which sinks into a bit of Hollywood cliché territory. The chance to see Samuel L. Jackson at the top of his game is worth renting this to begin with; to allow the issues that the movie raises percolate in one’s head after the fact is priceless.

WHY RENT THIS: Samuel L. Jackson is da mutha effin’ bomb. Interracial relationships are explored with more candor than is usual for non-indie films.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The ending descends into the bubbling cauldron of Hollywood cliché.

FAMILY VALUES: Foul language abounds; there’s also some violence, sexuality and drug use. While it’s only rated PG-13, sensitive souls might find this a bit rough.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The name of the area in Los Angeles where Rodney King was beaten is also called Lakeview Terrace. This is referenced by the use of his “Can’t we all just get along” line.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: The Baader Meinhof Complex