Review: Death at a Funeral

* * * out of four stars

“Death at a Funeral” takes the depressing notion of Murphy’s law and applies it to a disaster of a funeral. Everything goes wrong in the film because there is so much to go wrong.

Aaron (Chris Rock) has lost his father. So has the funeral home. When Aaron’s father’s casket is open, it is not the African-American elder laying there. Instead it’s a middle-aged Asian. “You’ve got Jackie Chan in there!” cries Aaron. “This isn’t Burger King… you can’t just mess up my order!” Once the real father is found, the family and friends begin to arrive. Aaron’s brother Ryan (Martin Lawrence), his cousins Elaine (Zoe Saldana) and Jeff (Columbus Short), their father Duncan (Ron Glass), Elaine’s nervous boyfriend Oscar (James Marsden), the grouchy Uncle Russell (Danny Glover), and friends Derek (Luke Wilson) and Norman (Tracey Morgan). It is an incredibly motley crew.

Trouble happens everywhere. I’m not even sure where to begin. Let’s see…

Jeff is a secretive drug dealer whose pill containers are not always what they seem. Jeff’s sister Elaine gives boyfriend Oscar something that looks like Valium after he confesses having anxiety. But it wasn’t Valium… it was a hallucinogenic. So for the better part of the day, Oscar is going nuts, and most of the time he is completely naked on the roof of Aaron’s house. Meanwhile, buddies Derek and Norman are sent to pick up Uncle Ruessell from the nursing home. Uncle Russell is confined to a wheelchair, and at one point needs some personal assistance from Norman while he relieves himself (his relief is going out the back door). As Russell, Danny Glover almost steals the movie. His grumpy apathy about the whole affair gives him some of the best lines (especially, “Let’s just burn him and get it over with”).

Aaron is a struggling writer. He is struggling to write a novel, but unlike brother Ryan, he is not very successful. Aaron and Ryan have had a long-lasting feud that mainly centers on Aaron’s resentment of Ryan’s writing success. But when the mysterious and tiny Frank (Peter Dinklage) shows up and announces to Aaron that he was romantically involved with Aaron and Ryan’s father, the two brothers are forced to come together and stop Frank from revealing scandalous pictures to their grieving mother. What ensues is a frantic effort to stop Frank, calm Oscar, reassure their mother, deal with Uncle Russell and try not to get on each other’s nerves until the whole shindig is over.

And what a shindig! There are gross-out moments, obscene hilarity and a very funny script by Dean Craig, who also wrote the original 2007 British film. Aside from Glover, other stand-out performances come from Tracey Morgan, who is paranoid about a discoloration on his arm, and James Marsden as the high-as-a-kite Oscar.

There is plenty to laugh at in “Death at a Funeral,” which takes a very funny look at a somber occasion.

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