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Death at a Funeral (2010) DVD Review

Death at a Funeral (2010) movie poster Death at a Funeral (2010)

Theatrical Release: April 16, 2010 / Running Time: 92 Minutes / Rating: R

Director: Neil LaBute / Writer: Dean Craig

Cast: Keith David (Reverend Davis), Loretta Devine (Cynthia Barnes), Peter Dinklage (Frank Lovett), Ron Glass (Duncan Barnes), Danny Glover (Uncle Russell), Regina Hall (Michelle Barnes), Kevin Hart (Brian), Martin Lawrence (Ryan Barnes), James Marsden (Oscar), Tracy Morgan (Norman), Chris Rock (Aaron Barnes), Zoë Saldaña (Elaine Barnes), Columbus Short (Jeff Barnes), Luke Wilson (Derek), Regine Nehy (Martina), Bob Minor (Edward Barnes)

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Some of the biggest black entertainers in comedy today who aren't Tyler Perry come together in Death at a Funeral, which African-Americanizes a 2007 British film directed by Frank Oz. That's an unlikely source and the knee-jerk reaction to this remake may be to scold Hollywood for unoriginality. The appropriate target of such a sentiment apparently can't be Dean Craig, the Brit who penned the well-received identically-titled original and is given sole credit for this update. Star/producer Chris Rock and "Everybody Hates Chris" scribe Aeysha Carr reportedly handled adaptation duties deemed insignificant by Writers Guild arbitration.

After a prolonged sickness, a septuagenarian has passed away. Per his wishes, his funeral is to be held at the large house he shared with his eldest son, Aaron Barnes (Chris Rock).
Aaron has been at work on a novel for years with nothing that he's ready to show for it. He and his wife Michelle (Regina Hall) have also been trying for months to have a child, to no avail. Both sore subjects are brought up repeatedly at the one ceremony important enough to round up the big Barnes family.

Among those attending the funeral is Aaron's barely younger brother Ryan (Martin Lawrence), whose actual literary success has guests wrongly expecting he will handle the eulogy instead of Aaron. Family friend Norman (Tracy Morgan) has the unenviable task of driving cantankerous old Uncle Russell (Danny Glover). Niece Elaine (Avatar's Zoë Saldaña) hopes to make a good impression with her outsider fiancé Oscar (James Marsden). Also present: grandchild-craving widow Cynthia (Loretta Devine in the obligatory age-inappropriate casting), impatient Reverend Davis (Keith David), and Elaine's disapproving father Duncan (Ron Glass).

In 2010's "Death at a Funeral", Chris Rock and Martin Lawrence star as brothers Aaron and Ryan Barnes, who are close in age but at different stages of their writerly ambitions.

After devoting much time to expository introductions, the movie arrives at the funeral, which by comedy classification rules must be marked by a series of wacky mishaps. In truth, they're more like a series of miscalculations. If you're watching closely enough, you'll notice that no effort is taken to sincerely establish or memorialize the deceased. A passing mention, sure, but no severe grief or surprise. Accordingly, the dead paterfamilias is fair game for revelations, ridicule, and an atmosphere more rowdy than revered.

Every mourner is given an arc, very few of which work. The worst and most belabored idea of all involves Oscar taking a pill from a prescription Valium bottle owned by Elaine's irresponsible younger brother Jeff (Columbus Short). Rather than calming Oscar as intended, the drug (learned to be "like acid mixed with acid") produces hallucinogenic effects. In time, he's sitting on the roof naked and sweaty, but not before providing disruption of the unthinkable kind.

Another suspiciously-viewed white guest, a dwarf named Frank (Peter Dinklage, reprising his role from the British version), supplies jaw-dropping disruption and discord of his own in the photograph-supported disclosure he makes to Aaron in a blackmail attempt. This becomes the film's central focus, but side threads open and continue, such as Ryan's efforts to hit on a barely legal family friend (Regine Nehy) and Uncle Russell's toilet troubles.

Family friends Derek (Luke Wilson) and Norman (Tracy Morgan) arrive at Uncle Russell's nursing home with smiles he doesn't appreciate. The uncharacteristic jauntiness of Oscar (James Marsden) clues girlfriend Elaine (Zoe Saldana) and her younger brother Jeff (Columbus Short) that that taken pill wasn't really Valium.

Because of the near-constant efforts to the contrary, this Funeral is more dreary than most. The film does little more than layer joke upon joke and if you're not laughing, there isn't much else to do. Unlike most of today's R-rated comedies, the content here is far from edgy or boundary-pushing. Profanity flows but not too colorfully or excessively. The movie seems more likely to entertain those in the same age bracket as the main stars (or older) than those too young to know Lawrence from "Martin" or Rock from his concurrent stand-up success.
The crudeness an R rating presently suggests is limited to one very gross (and overplayed) fecal gag and several shots of Marsden's (and stunt double's) nude bottom the MPAA doesn't even bother to mention.

Out of the large alphabetically-billed ensemble cast, there are few bright spots. Rock makes for a sufficiently sympathetic lead, Morgan amuses with his hand rash hypochondria, and, as Elaine's lovelorn ex (the movie's only subplot given a shade of unpredictability), Luke Wilson is fine (why is he only getting jobs like this and cell phone commercials these days?). I guess the movie might be praised for its casting diversity, incorporating white actors to a larger degree than most black-leaning productions do. But, no matter how smoothly and tastefully handled, one suspects that it was done to broaden the film's marketability. After all, in a curious display of political correctness (or perhaps the film's most subtle joke), the same movie spends an hour referring to Dinklage's character as "the guy in the leather jacket", as if his attire not his stature would be the logical identifier.

Buy Death at a Funeral (2010) on DVD from Amazon.com DVD Details

2.40:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English, French, Descriptive Video Service)
Subtitles: English, English for Hearing Impaired, French
Not Closed Captioned; Extras Subtitled in English
Release Date: August 10, 2010
Suggested Retail Price: $28.95
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (DVD-9)
Black Eco-Friendly Keepcase
Also available on Blu-ray Disc ($34.95 SRP)

VIDEO and AUDIO

Picture quality on Death at a Funeral is up to Sony's high standard. There is really not a single thing to bemoan about the sharp, clean, vibrant 2.40:1 transfer. The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is strangely front-heavy, to the extent that you may put an ear up to a rear speaker to make sure it's plugged in. It is, but providing little more than mild surround reinforcement, it has little impact on the experience. Of course, a dialogue-driven domestic comedy like this isn't designed to engulf and excite you aurally. But it's even light on music, besides the occasional attempt by Christophe Beck's score to assist failing gags.

Regina Hall's frisky bra scene as baby-craving wife Michelle is among the disc's deletions. Ron Glass loses his place in the letterboxed gag reel. Having made his name on misogynistic Mormon plays, Neil LaBute isn't the obvious choice to direct a black family funeral comedy. He's shown at work in the making-of featurette.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS and PACKAGING

Extras begin with an audio commentary by Chris Rock and director Neil LaBute. Recorded coast-to-coast, the conversation is full, lively, and informative. Among the topics they touch upon are diverging from the original, the movie's trailer (not preserved on this platter, despite supposedly ranking as the studio's all-time highest-rated preview),
earning an R rating, photographing different races in the same scene, and the various cast members. This is a better track than you might expect, and Rock reveals himself to carry a better film knowledge than you'd suspect.

The video bonuses kick off with seven deleted scenes (7:10), most of which appear to have been dropped for not being comedy-driven. Most prominently featured in the cut bits are Luke Wilson and Regina Hall. We also get an alternate edit of the opening and a little more James Marsden tripping.

The gag reel (2:30) consists largely of profanity-marked mess-ups like Morgan fumbling with a Bluetooth earpiece. The latter part collects filming-interrupting cell phone ringings, which each elicited a $100 failure-to-silence fine.

"Death at a Funeral: Last Rites, Dark Secrets" (20:10), the first and longest of the disc's three featurettes, offers a decent overview of production, covering the origins, casting, and filming. It's standard and glossy but provides a degree of attention not always found.

The Barnes Family Tree that functions as transitional screen in "Family Album" doesn't make perfect sense. In his featurette interviews, Danny Glover is more alert than (but as lispy as) his turn in the film as old coot Uncle Russell. Top-billed but poster/cover-denied Keith David appears as Reverend Davis in the DVD main menu's casket-topping montage.

"Family Album" (10:55) gathers comments from actors about the characters, moving around an imprecise family tree of Polaroids before each speaker appears.

"Death for Real" (5:55) attempts to get serious about mortality, but most of the featured cast and crew members simply crack jokes and dispense clichés.

Playing at disc insertion are Sony make.believe and Blu-ray promos, plus trailers for The Karate Kid (2010), Grown Ups, The Back-Up Plan, Stomp the Yard: Homecoming. The Previews menu holds all of these (minus "make.believe") plus ads for The Other Guys, Game of Death (red-band), and "HawthoRNe: The Complete First Season."

The main menu's antic-heavy montage plays in a photo frame atop a computer-generated coffin.

Peter Dinklage provides our one on-camera connection to the faithfully-remade 2007 British film by again playing a catalytic dwarf with photos, a big secret, and a hefty demand. Ryan (Martin Lawrence) turns up the charm while talking to the newly-legal teenager he's glad to not be related to.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Death at a Funeral seeks to reach a different and wider audience than the recent dark comedy it closely remakes. It should surely be able to claim a greater number of disappointed viewers. It's fair to call the movie tasteless in either sense of the word. Still, numerous though the offenses and missteps may be, they're pretty mild on the whole and the experience isn't quite as terrible as the outrageous trailer indicated. Nonetheless, you'll have to be a pretty huge and forgiving fan of the cast to come away satisfied.

Sony's DVD delivers great picture, adequate sound, and a solid collection of bonus features. Still, it's a package most won't regret passing on.

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Reviewed August 7, 2010.



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