Death at a Funeral

April 16, 2010 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Chris Rock, Martin Lawrence, Tracy Morgan
Directed by: Neil LaBute (“Lakeview Terrace”)
Written by: Dean Craig (“Death at a Funeral,” 2007 version)

If there was even one ounce of cleverness in “Death at a Funeral,” the remake of the 2007 British comedy of the same name and penned by the same screenwriter, there might have been a reason to retell the story for a different demographic that probably missed the original when it hit theaters three years ago. What’s the point, however, when the new version practically matches its predecessor character for character, shot for shot, and line for line? What’s worse than a tiresome re-creation is one with nothing unique to say.

Replacing dry and subtle British humor with broad, overdone jokes, the modernized “Funeral” hopes to rely on its popular cast to shake things up a bit. Chris Rock (“The Longest Yard”) takes the lead as Aaron, the oldest son of the recently deceased Edward (Bob Minor), who is trying to keep his dad’s funeral from falling apart once the oddball mourners start showing up at his mother’s house to pay their respects. This includes his well-known novelist brother Ryan (Martin Lawrence), who walks in unwilling to pitch in for the funeral costs but ready to chase skirt, and other family and friends (Zoe Saldana, James Marsden, Tracy Morgan, Columbus Short, Danny Glover, Luke Wilson) who are able to disrupt the service in their own peculiar way.

Big trouble comes in a small package when a mysterious dwarf named Frank (Peter Dinklage, who reprises the exact role he had in the 2007 film), shows up to the funeral ready to reveal a secret that could cause a lot of pain on an already sorrowful day. To keep the funeral from becoming uncontrollable, the family must find a way to keep Frank quiet just long enough to survive a few prayers and a eulogy.

But with characters running around hopped up on hallucinogens, a mother complaining that she doesn’t have any grandchildren, and an irate uncle with some bowel issues, it won’t be easy for Aaron to keep everything moving smoothly. Director Neil LaBute (“Lakeview Terrace”) has the same problem as his actors seem to be reading their dialogue off a teleprompt and lazily going through the motions of a mediocre slapstick comedy.

With “Funeral” coming as close as possible to plagiarizing itself, there is one distinct difference between the two films other than the characters’ skin color. This new version is much more exhausting to sit through. Sure, funerals aren’t supposed to be much fun, but “Death at a Funeral” gives new meaning to dead on arrival.

Lakeview Terrace

September 7, 2008 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Samuel L. Jackson, Patrick Wilson, Kerry Washington
Directed by: Neil LaBute (“The Shape of Things”)
Written by: David Lougher (“Money Train”) and Howard Korder (“The Passion of Ayn Rand”)

When you’re as sought after as an actor like Samuel L. Jackson (he has six feature films out in 2008), it’s only natural to spread yourself a bit thin. It’s unfortunate in “Lakeview Terrace” that Jackson, who could possibly be at his most diluted of the year, connects with a director on a steady decline.

Neil LaBute, who looked like he could be the next big filmmaker back in the late 90s with his dark comedies “In the Company of Men” and “Your Friends and Neighbors,” seems to have slipped into a cinematic coma.  If 2006’s “Wicker Man” wasn’t enough evidence that LaBute had lost his way, “Lakeview Terrace” is a sad reminder that he is captain of a sinking ship.

In “Lakeview,” interracial husband and wife Chris (Patrick Wilson) and Lisa (Kerry Washington) Mattson move into a new neighborhood and are dumbfounded when they find out their next door neighbor, Abel Turner, an LAPD officer and overprotective father of two, lets them know that he doesn’t want them living there.

The script might have us believe that it’s not known whether Abel is turned off by an interracial couple living next door to him or if he just misses his deceased wife and can’t stand the idea of a happy couple making love in their swimming pool in plain sight. Either way, Abel is chock full of politically incorrect opinions that make his run ins with his new neighbors very awkward.

Soon, mere uncomfortable moments evolve into attempts by Abel to do anything he can (including using his influence as a cop) to get Chris and Lisa to pack up and leave. It starts off as annoyances with floodlights and sarcastic comments, but Abel has a nasty side and, with a badge protecting him, he’s not afraid to show it.

Where the screenplay lacks terribly is in rhyme and reason.  Are we supposed to believe that Abel is so inundated with hatred for his neighbors he can act out in these threatening manners? The motivation behind his actions is not as clear and Jackson’s character is left floating around with nothing more than a scowl on his disapproving face.

Screenwriters David Lougher and Howard Korder hint to us that Abel’s not actually a bigot. He has an Asian neighbor he talks to and a Hispanic LAPD partner (Jay Hernandez) that keeps him company on the streets. So, why does he lose his cool? Who knows, but the intensity of the neighborhood rivalry never reaches a boiling point like Ray Liotta did in 1992’s “Unlawful Entry,” which is basically the same story without the racist angle.

Here, LaBute plays it safe and turns racial tension into a sort of name calling-game on the playground. While we should loathe a character like Abel – or at least what he stands for – there’s nothing in the film’s arsenal to make us feel he’s anything more than a petty nuisance.