[Screen It]

(2010) (Chris Rock, Martin Lawrence) (R)

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Comedy: Family and friends must contend with unexpected developments and revelations at a man's funeral.
Aaron (CHRIS ROCK) is a frustrated man. Not only do he and his wife, Michelle (REGINA HALL), live with his parents and must put up with his mom, Cynthia (LORETTA DIVINE), always nagging them about not having any children yet, but as an aspiring author he also lives in the figurative shadow of his younger and highly successful novelist brother, Ryan (MARTIN LAWRENCE).

The two aren't close siblings and their differences come to head when Ryan returns home for their father's funeral that's to take place inside the family home and be presided over by Reverend Davis (KEITH DAVID). Following a mix-up with the body, things only go downhill from there as family and friends gather for the ceremony.

Among them are the brothers' cousins, Jeff (COLUMBUS SHORT) & Elaine (ZOE SALDANA), and her boyfriend, Oscar (JAMES MARSDEN), who her father, Duncan (RON GLASS), doesn't like as he prefers her former boyfriend, Derek (LUKE WILSON). The latter, who still wants to get back with Elaine, has arrived with his friend Norman (TRACY MORGAN) who isn't pleased that they have to drive cantankerous Uncle Russell (DANNY GLOVER) to the funeral. Comely 18-year-old family friend Martina (REGINE NEHY) is also there and has drawn the lascivious attention of Ryan, but Aaron is more concerned with the arrival of Frank (PETER DINKLAGE).

He initially thinks the man is just a friend of his father's, but things become more complicated following Frank's revelation about the deceased man and related threat of blackmail. With Oscar ending up unintentionally high on acid when Elaine gives him what she mistakenly believes is Valium, things quickly spiral out of control for everyone, but especially Aaron who simply wants to deliver a respectful eulogy for his father.

OUR TAKE: 3.5 out of 10
I've never been a huge fan of Chris Rock's work. While he's occasionally had his moments (most notably back on "Saturday Night Live") and has certainly appeared in a lot of films, he usually doesn't do much to tickle my funny bone and his acting (comedic or otherwise) is mediocre at best. In short, and much like Jerry Seinfeld, he's Chris Rock playing just a version of himself, barely able to keep from grinning while delivering his punch lines (at least Seinfeld could rely on his and Larry David's terrific writing to overcome such thespian shortcomings).

Rock certainly hit a high note with his terrific documentary "Good Hair," but many of his other films have been less successful, be that artistically, critically or as received by the general population. More troubling is that he's continuing his trend of appearing in or even being the driving force behind a number of remakes that are both unnecessary and usually nowhere near as good as the original pics.

Following his work with "I Think I Love My Wife" ("Chloe in the Afternoon"), "Down to Earth" ("Heaven Can Wait") and the remakes of "The Longest Yard" and "Doctor Dolittle." Rock now stars in and serves as producer of "Death at a Funeral." If that title doesn't strike any bells, it's because few people saw or even heard of the Frank Oz directed British comedy from 2007.

A purportedly zany flick about everything that could go wrong doing so at a patriarch's funeral, the film had the right intentions, but the execution was botched, mainly due to running the various repeated gags into the ground. My summary of the film was "most of it comes off as labored and redundant, with easy rather than creative laughs."

Rock apparently not only thought it was funny, but also that he could improve on the original by moving the story across the pond to Los Angeles, replacing most of the characters with African-American performers, and putting once upon a time controversial filmmaker Neil LaBute (who directed him in "Nurse Betty") behind the camera.

Granted, the latter tactic should have been brilliant considering he helmed the hilarious Nic Cage comedy "The Wicker Man." What's that? That remake was supposed to be a thriller? Then why did I laugh so much? Oh, that's right, because it was so bad it was funny.

While our preview audience was howling at times over the madcap shenanigans offered up here, those of us who had seen the original weren't as amused. And that's because LaBute and screenwriter Dean Craig have essentially remade the exact same film, which must not have been much of a stretch for Craig since he also wrote the original one.

Sure, there are some new cultural references thrown in (about social media, Dreamgirls and, curiously enough, the already outdated Amy Winehouse drug joke and one about R. Kelly and his young girl issues). Otherwise, however, this is pretty much the same film as before. Although it's not quite as annoying as the exact shot-by-shot recreation of "Psycho," the plotline, characters and related jokes are lifted directly from the original film.

Artistic sensibilities aside, that wouldn't necessarily have been a bad thing had the original not had its various problems, but those in front of and behind the camera here have recycled them as well. In fact, and because everything plays out like before, I easily could have used my review from the original film, changed a few names and modifiers, and come up with an accurate assessment of this offering.

It certainly doesn't help that the likes of Rock, Martin Lawrence, Tracy Morgan and more simply play the same sort of characters they always do rather than try something new or at least do something creative or funny with their roles. James Marsden does seem to be having fun in the accidentally high character part (and thus gets the lion's share of the physical comedy bits), but just like the first time around, his character's altered and eventually nude state ends up run into the ground.

Danny Glover gets the unfortunate bit as the cantankerous, wheelchair bound older relative (that like before includes a bathroom break resulting in feces on another person -- which got the biggest laughs at our screening that, no, was not comprised of third-graders). Meanwhile, Peter Dinklage reprises his role from the original as the funeral crasher with a surprising revelation (although, as was the case last time, is too easy to spot before coming out, even for anyone who's new to the material).

LaBute is no stranger to helming films designed to make you squirm, and the laughs here are supposed to come at all of the inappropriate moments. But zany, slapdash comedy is a completely different beast than satire, and the filmmaker could have learned a thing or two by going back and studying screwball comedies of old (and yes, I mean much further than 2007). While everything here is frenetic, frantic and madcap in nature, most of it -- just like in the immediate predecessor -- takes the easy rather than creative route.

Even if I had never seen the original, I doubt I would have found much of the offering as funny, let alone hilarious. Throwing in the fact that it's a lazy remake - in terms of not doing anything new or fun with the old material -- means this rebooting of "Death at a Funeral" gets the same score as before, a 3.5 out of 10.

Reviewed April 14, 2010 / Posted April 16, 2010

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