'Death at a Funeral' has surprising laughs

There's no beating around the bush: You should hate this movie. Out of pure principle and a love for all that is holy, you should despise the very existence of this film. If you have an ethical bone in your body, you should contact your local exorcist to banish the idea of such a cinematic travesty back to the hell where it belongs. And with nearly every possible reason to curse "Death at a Funeral" for being born, it still has one thing going for it. It's too easy to like.

Hollywood remakes are one thing. They happen all too frequently, with bloated budgets that take one-time disasters and snowball them into monumental flops. That isn't even the issue here. It's the audacity to take a financially and critically successful film from Britain and try to Americanize it — three years later. I can only think of one way to describe it, masturbatory, and that might be more of a compliment in the context.

Because where the original was indeed hilariously vulgar, this remake takes highly recognizable actors and puts them into a scatological farce rivaling the thoughtlessness of Tom Green. There's the same dead father, the same unexpected relationship, plenty of inescapable drug humor and the bonus of enough slowly maturing black comedians that the whole affair could be called "Funeral at the Apollo."

But to their credit, Chris Rock and Martin Lawrence actually leave most of the larger gags — and I do mean gags — to the supporting cast. That leads to an entirely new set of questions.

Is Danny Glover trying to outrun the reaper, following up on pitiful bombs like "Gone Fishin'" just to stay out of a nursing home? Is Luke Wilson so strapped for cash that he has to play a token white guy in a nearly all-black comedy on top of his non-stop barrage of cell-phone commercials? And can Tracy Morgan turn down a role now that he's being offered more than turns as "Fat Guy Number 2"?

Surprisingly, Peter Dinklage returns from the British version as "Frank," the elephant in the room, (though not literally -- at all.) For a character actor of his nature, Dinklage has strongly resisted typecasting, playing formidable characters in "Find Me Guilty" and "Saint John of Las Vegas." But for "Death," he sucks it up to play what is expected of him: a little man for laughs.

To be fair, some of the humor might have been lost in translation and might not actually be at the fault of the revised script. There's an expectation of crudeness in British film that doesn't necessarily resonate in American cinema. There must be a reason "Monty Python" has lasted as a cultural symbol in England, while we're stuck with "Two and a Half Men."

But as for "Death," which obviously never intended to make a run at awards season, the exploits aren't all bad. There are several guaranteed laughs and a certain amount of charm that still spills over from it's well-received predecessor. And we can all be thankful Tyler Perry kept his mitts off of this puppy, relieving audiences everywhere from one more piece of strategically targeted vomit.

Most critics suggest seeing the original instead, but why bother? I mean, what the hell are crumpets, anyway?

More Stories