Death at a Funeral’ begins as close-knit African American family prepares for their father’s funeral. Aaron (Chris Rock) is trying to hold the family together, even though he’s unable to hold his own life together still living with his parents after all this time. Ryan (Martin Lawrence) is the rock star novelist of the family. As a famous author Ryan only makes it out to see his family during times such as this. Other members of the family arrive like Elaine (Zoe Saldana), niece of the deceased, with her boy friend Oscar (James Marsden.
Everyone’s got problems with everyone in the family. At least that’s what we surmise by the opening few minutes of the film. Aaron is being harped on by his wife to get to baby-making she’s getting old. Aaron’s mom, while grieving for his father, still has time to jab him a few times that she has yet to see a grandkid enter her life. Ryan and Aaron are at each other’s throats because deep down Ryan is a deadbeat and Aaron is jealous of him and his published novels. Elaine is facing the heat from her father who hates Oscar…and so on and so on. Tracy Morgan appears here as Norman, whose role in the family is never actually explained. No matter, there’s so much stuff going on you’ll end up forgetting half of it.
When Aaron and Ryan end up being blackmailed by their father’s gay lover (don’t worry, this isn’t a spoiler. It’s spelled out in every trailer for the film), things really get out of hand.
As a remake of the British version of the same name, director Neil LaBute revels in the mundane most of the time, with only a few comedic glimmers of hope here and there.
During a misunderstanding Oscar ends up taking a hallucinogenic drug. The results are the best thing about the movie. Marsden literally steals every scene he’s in. He’s the very best part of the film. In a part that could so easily end up being overacted, he plays it with such hilarity that it’s worth seeing the film just for his performance.
Sadly, the rest of the film isn’t as interesting. It’s one gag after another, as the brothers – Ryan and Aaron – run around the house trying to fix mess after mess so they can have a proper funeral for their dad. Chris Rock has a tough time not sounding like he’s going to break into a stand-up comedy monologue, while Martin Lawrence gives us all the creeps as he eyes an eighteen year-old girl for the entire movie. Tracy Morgan is even involved in a poop gag, with Danny Glover that may actually induce gagging. It’s horrendous. From one end of the comedic spectrum with Marsden’s performance, to the other end of the spectrum with disgusting, unfunny poop jokes. That’s how LaBute rolls here.
The ending feels utterly contrived and predictable. We know how it will all turn out and the lessons that will be learned. Tolerance will overcome and they’ll all be better people, because of their experiences. But, even with Marsden’s brilliant performance, Tracy Morgan is still covered in poo. If I had to pick which one better defines the movie as a whole, it would be the latter.