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Sunday, September 12, 2010

Death at a Funeral

Title: Death at a Funeral

Year of Release: 2010

Date Viewed: August 25th, 2010

MPAA Rating: R

It's no secret that Hollywood has been on a remaking frenzy as of late. Why waste precious time developing original ideas when you can just borrow existing ones and make money faster? Sometimes the results turn out surprisingly splendid. Other times, the results make one question why anyone had bothered in the first place. These remakes can often go unnoticed since many of them are inspired from foreign pictures that are outside the radar of American mainstream audiences or an attempt to reintroduce an idea that had been forgotten long ago. Death at a Funeral does not fit with either of those categories. Technically, the original was a foreign film; produced in Great Britain. So since there obviously couldn't be many language translation problems, the studio cannot fall back on the "Americans don't like reading subtitles" excuse to justify its existence. Nor is it a new spin on an old classic, unless you think three years is long enough for it to be called one.

So for both of those reasons, it's safe to consider the 2010 edition of Death at a Funeral as one of the most questionable remakes in recent years which is saying quite a bit. The jury is out on whether this can be labeled as a faithful remake or simply a lazy one. Either way, it worked for me.

With equal screen time given to so many actors, I'm not sure if it's fair to list who the main characters are. So we'll start with the first character seen and probably the most sympathetic one. Chris Rock plays Aaron, a mild-mannered novice writer who is hired to deliver the eulogy at his father's funeral. His family is as dysfunctional as they come and only seem to reunite after one of them passes away. He is constantly at odds with his younger brother Ryan (Martin Lawrence), who never misses a chance to flaunt his successful writing career and first-class plane tickets. Aaron also has to deal with an impatient reverend (Keith David), the always grouchy Uncle Russell (Danny Glover) and his sex-deprived wife Michelle (Regina Hall). The best he can hope for is this funeral to blow over as smoothly and quickly as possible. But that's far from easy when there is a mysterious stranger (Peter Dinklage reprising his role from the 2007 film) holding a secret that could permanently damper the image of Aaron's father; or when a hallucinogenic drug gets loose amongst the guests with increasingly chaotic results.

As funny as this movie is, there are many moments that seem stiff and awkward. I'm not so sure if it's so much to do with uninspired humor as it is with humor translation problems. It reminds me of a story from Jimmy Carter's presidency. He once delivered a speech scattered with jokes in front of a Japanese crowd. His audience responded favorably each time on cue. Carter was so impressed with his interpreter's work that he asked him how he had managed to translate the humor so well. The interpreter shrugged and admitted that he had actually just told the crowd to laugh at all the funny parts.

Moral of the story: It's really not the movie's fault that some jokes don't work. Humor's cultural origin can have a big impact on how an audience responds to it. British humor can often be too dry for American audiences to get into and some moments in Death at a Funeral suffer as a result, even with a cast that is as far from British as you could ask for.

Having said all that, I still believe there is enough material here that is funny in any culture, so long as the individual has the stomach for it and has the ability to swallow their own pride for a little while. Some of the best gags I'm too shy to recreate in detail here much less to someone I know. It might be best to skip the popcorn for this one.

The movie is at its most dull during the first thirty minutes where a series of cleverly disguised set-up events are presented as complete jokes. Case in point; an early scene where James Marsden's character Oscar consumes a dose of Valium which is actually the hallucinogenic drug I had mentioned earlier. As you can predict, Oscar starts behaving irrationally and eventually causes a huge stir during one of the movie's most memorable scenes. The first time you see Oscar stumble over his words and feet, you think the joke is over. Then his crazed behavior gets worse with each following plot point leading to gradually bigger laughs. There are at least two other sub-plots with big payoffs at the finale.

The plot itself really hasn't changed at all from its British counterpart. Aside from some character conversations that were obviously rewritten for a new audience, any other revisions are minor at best. Its British roots are evident during most scenes. Any other movie with a cast lineup like this would need a real clever story to keep up with its inevitable fast-paced wackiness. That's not to say Death at a Funeral isn't fun. It simply understands itself to not go overboard with its pacing and to trust the story in driving in the laughs instead of depending entirely on the actors' delivery.

Anyone who says that they love the British film and hate the American one is really only kidding themselves. For my money, each version is equally fun. And any shortcomings that came from translation problems and whatnot are made up for in other elements. One can fairly criticize the movie for not presenting an original story or for not offering enough laughs to satisfy expectations. But it is not fair to say that it wasn't faithful to the original film or that they didn't try.

I gave the original movie a six and I cannot find a reason to rate this one higher or lower.

Rating: 6

1 comment:

  1. I personally don't understand why we have to remake British comedies with talented American actors.

    You know it's only a matter of time until we see "Tyler Perry's A Fish Called Wanda."