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ReelTalk Movie Reviews
Funeral Farce
by Betty Jo Tucker

Even in real life, when the wrong corpse is presented to loved ones, it might be a bit amusing, but Death at a Funeral opens with a farcical treatment of that situation -- and hilarious results ensue. Personally, I know mistaken identity at a funeral can happen. My grandmother was shocked at grandpa’s strange appearance upon first viewing him in a casket. “Omigosh,” I whispered to her. “That’s someone else.”  Thankfully, our family was spared the additional chaos depicted in Neil LaBute’s ribald comedy starring Chris Rock and Martin Lawrence. Blackmail, illicit love, jealousy and longstanding resentments come into play -- all during one important afternoon -- in Death at a Funeral

Rock (Down to Earth) and Lawrence (Wild Hogs) portray rival siblings coming together at their father’s funeral. Rock is uptight Aaron, the older brother, who can’t help being jealous of Ryan’s (Lawrence) success as an author as well as his “favorite” status with their mother (Loretta Devine). I’m surprised and pleased that both actors deliver such disciplined performances, especially in the midst of the bedlam that occurs after the revealing of a family secret early during the ceremony. Rock makes us believe Aaron’s highly developed sense of responsibility, and Lawrence convinces us about Ryan’s more laid back, sometimes selfish approach to everything. These two popular comic actors wisely leave most of the amusing parts of the movie to its strong supporting cast. And James Marsden steps up to steal the show, which seems to be happening often lately. (If you don’t believe me, just check out Enchanted and Hairspray.)         

Marsden plays Oscar, the fiancé of the dead man’s niece (Zoe Soldana). He goes from being a perfectly normal guy to someone accidentally under the influence of a hallucinogenic drug. Although not a pretty sight, this is the funniest performance of the year to date. I bent over laughing every time Marsden appeared on camera. Also evoking their share of laughs are Loretta Devine, Tracy Morgan, Peter Dinklage, Columbus Short, Ron Glass, Regina Hall, Luke Wilson and Danny Glover as members of the family or funeral attendees. (Still, I could have done without the disgusting bathroom scene featuring Morgan, Short and Glover.)

I’m glad filmmaker LaBute (Lakeview Terrace) allowed this remake to follow the 2007 British original in most cases. Dan Craig wrote both screenplays, so that’s not surprising. Dinklage (The Station Agent), who always proves size doesn’t matter where talent is concerned, even plays the same key role -- and with intense commitment -- in each version.               

“My father was an exceptional man,” Rock’s character insists during his painstakingly prepared eulogy, but it’s the riotous events of the day that make him realize how exceptional.


Happily, Death at a Funeral ends with an emphasis on love and forgiveness. Amen.    

(Released by Screen Gems and rated “R” for language, drug content and some sexual humor.)

For more information about Death at a Funeral, go to the Internet Movie Data Base or Rotten Tomatoes website. 

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