Family functions can be intense at the best of times. A Christmas dinner can turn into a theatre of war over burnt gravy; a family reunion, a battleground of hurt feelings and resentment. Probably no other family event is as highly charged as a funeral. Emotions are heightened and everybody is on edge. Add to that charged atmosphere a boyfriend who has been accidentally dosed with LSD, a gay blackmailer, and a grumpy uncle and you have “Death at a Funeral,” a new all star farce starring Chris Rock and Tracy Morgan.
Based on a 2007 British film of the same name “Death of a Funeral” begins on the day of Aaron (Rock) and Ryan (Martin Lawrence) father’s funeral. Opting for a home funeral, every family member has been invited. They include the crusty uncles Russell and Duncan (Danny Glover and Ron Glass ), a soon to be married couple Elaine and Oscar (Zoe Saldana and James Marsden) and family friends Norman (Tracy Morgan) and Derek (Luke Wilson). Also attending is Frank (Peter Dinklage, reprising his role from the original) an uninvited guest with a secret about Aaron and Ryan’s father.
“Death at a Funeral” is a farce. There are lots of slamming doors, outrageous situations, a mysterious rash, a hallucinating guest and a coffin that seems unable to contain the dead body within. If you don’t like one joke, stay with it, there’ll be fifteen more in the next minute-and-a-half. They come fast and furious and while only about half of them land it’s enough to make “Death at a Funeral” worth a look.
Chris Rock as the centerpiece of all the action. He’s the comedic anchor around which all the action spins but he’s not just the film’s straight man. He sets up and knocks down joke after joke—including one hilarious Screamin’ Jay Hawkins reference—all the while adding some warmth to the rare non-comedic scenes.
Also strong is James Marsden who shows off his comic chops in the unforgiving role as the high guy. It’s a “Reefer Madness” portrayal of someone in the depths of an acid trip—if you want realism rent “Requiem for a Dream”—but it is funny watching him try and interact with the other guests at the funeral while out of his mind.
The rest of the ensemble cast flits in and out of the action with varying degrees of success. If the idea of Tracy Morgan saying, “I’m gonna forget about the poop in my mouth,” amuses you, then his role is successful (if a little less sophisticated than the material he spouts every week on “30 Rock”) and the great Danny Glover (who once played Nelson Mandela) has little to do other than reprise his stuck on a toilet gag from “Lethal Weapon 2.”
Much of “Death at a Funeral” is in very bad taste but despite a hint of homophobia delivers some solid laughs.