A Very Slow Death…
Directed by Neil LaBute
Death at a Funeral is a farce, based on the 2007 British film of the same name. I wish I'd known that before I watched it. I'll be honest, the farce may be a theater tradition, but most of the time they're just stupid. It's an intellectually redundant form of broad based comedy, the idiot relative of its more refined cousin, satire, which actually requires thinking. And generally speaking, the only thing worse than a French or British farce, is an American one. It simply doesn't work in Hollywood because big American films are always trying to make sure that everyone is happy at the end. That's assuming, of course, people GET to the end. I first checked my watch about forty-five minutes into the movie. I checked it again about ten minutes later. At one point I yawned, and it was only 9:30pm. So, that wasn't a good sign. But maybe I should go back to the reason I watched the movie in the first place.
Some of you may not remember, but when Chris Rock released his 1998 HBO special, Black and White, there were many, myself included, who considered him the preeminent comedian of his generation. Perhaps the closest thing to the reincarnation of a young Eddie Murphy. Unlike Murphy however, Rock was never able to transform his stand up success to movies, not in a starring role, at least. Lawrence, on the other hand, was a box office power for a short time in the late 1990's. In many ways, he was the antithesis of Rock; a sometimes funny stand up comedian whose stylings did translate into some big hits. Then Hollywood paid him $20 million to do Black Knight, he became arrogant, and was never the same.
All comedians are angry, but when they become arrogant – that is, when their arrogance infects their comedy – they lose their mass appeal. Ever wonder why Adam Sandler is still popular? The anger, and therefore the humility, real or not, is still evident in his work, and people can still identify with him.
As for this typically unfunny farce, well, there isn't a lot to say. There's a funeral, obviously, and some well known actors playing types. I already mentioned the two leads. Luke Wilson is himself. Tracy Morgan is himself. Regina Hall acts as though she's still working with the Wayan brothers. (Psst. This isn't another Scary Movie. You don't have to squeak your voice on every line reading.) Danny Glover is a grumpy, wheelchair bound grandfather. Zoe Saldana is here, although I'm not sure why. Seems like she's accepted every acting offer since Avatar. She probably would have been more effective here in the blue, ten foot body, with the long tail. None of these actors are ever funny. Oddly, the only laughs in the movie come from James Marsden. His frazzled character is the only one we actually believe.
Death at a Funeral never lets you inside. You never get the sense that the movie cares about its idiot characters, perhaps it's not supposed to, and consequently, doesn't care about you either. The best part of the movie was checking the display on my DVD player and realizing there were only nine minutes left. The movie is 89 minutes but feels much, much longer. If the purpose of this farce was to slow down the minute hand on my watch, the movie is a tremendous success. Otherwise, you'll wish you were the one in the casket.
* (out of five)
Copyright Stephen Burns 2010