James Marsden sitting on a rooftop in his birthday suit, happy and high as a kite; that’s the image that stands out in my head after seeing Death at a Funeral. For the most part, the film was a hilarious blend of line bits and scenes. Starring Chris Rock (Aaron), Martin Lawrence (Ryan), and Zoe Saldana (Elaine) among a cast of characters, this film urbanizes the original British 2007 version written by Dean Craig. Director Neil LaBute (Lakeview Terrace, Nurse Betty) moves this dark comedy in a relatively fast pace albeit subdued for a Chris Rock vehicle.
The story centers on the memorial service for Aaron and Ryan’s father at his home, as the two brothers’ conflicting relationship sets a backdrop for the mayhem that ensues. Elaine (the cousin) brings along her nervous boyfriend (James Marsden) who can’t deal with her father (Ron Glass), and she spends the time warding off her over-confident ex-boyfriend (Luke Wilson). Amidst the wackiness of the mother-daughter-in-law (Loretta Devine and Regina Hall) issues and Uncle Russell’s (Danny Glover) wheelchair-bound crabbiness, along comes Frank (Peter Dinklage) whose sinister creepiness is the prelude to the dark family secret about to unfold. It is that secret that creates the entanglements, breaking up the ceremony in chaos.
While the characters do a fine job of bringing humor to an otherwise solemn event, the scene stealer in this film is James Marsden (Oscar). His smiling dopiness adds to the giggle factor that is mostly understated for everyone else in the film. Who knew the ass-kicking X-Men hero had great comedic timing? The only complaint I had for his scenes were that they were way too short. The rooftop scene, however, is the highlight that brings the open-ended issues to a close, and it’s not short of eye candy (reminiscent of the phrase, “smooth as a baby’s bottom”). Zoe Saldana plays the doting girlfriend seamlessly well in her slim-fitting black funeral dress (where is she hiding that blue Avatar tail?).
As a remake this movie stands well on its own if you haven’t seen the original British version. Of course, with a touch of Chris Rock and Martin Lawrence, you do get a more contemporary feel and more outlandish and sometimes nonsensical humor. This film captures the absurdity of all the individual instances and brings them to a well-rounded and emphatic ending. The one thing it could have left out is the vulgar bathroom humor (think Ben Stiller in Along Came Polly) which is not new to the storyline. Still, it’s worth a matinee or DVD viewing, unless you prefer to see Oscar in his birthday suit a lot sooner on the big screen.