Usually when Hollywood does an American version of a good foreign film it’s one from France, Japan, China, Mexico, Sweden, Spain or any number of other countries.
But England? And by writer/director Neil LaBute, the champion of ugly dramas featuring ugly, self-absorbed, unrelateable characters (Lakeview Terrace)?
LaBute doesn’t write Death at a Funeral. He’s just behind the camera. And that leads to another huge question mark. The original film is from 2007 and is done by former Muppeteer and voice of Yoda, Frank Oz. Why change?
Both are written by Dean Craig. The British version was released in the U.S. and stiffed at the box office. LaBute’s — packed with big name black actors — will not. Thus you have the real reason for the rehash — money. Lots of money.
But I’m ahead of myself.
The story is spun into bunch of comic subplots swirling around a theme. A memorial service — complete with casket and body — is being held at the home of the lost loved one. Chris Rock and Martin Lawrence are two bickering brothers that center the comedy. Their late father had a lover. He’s a dwarf who blackmails them and threatens to show pictures to their mother if he doesn’t get a check for $30,000.
One of the best unknown actors in the business, Peter Dinklage reprises the role of the dwarf. He was Peter in the original and is Frank here. In both he’s brilliant. Dinklage seems to be the only person in the cast with an understanding that comedy can be subtle.
Rock and Lawrence sure don’t — never have.
The serious comedy comes from how the brothers deal with the blackmailing dwarf and from a side story involving characters played by Zoe Zaldana (Avatar) and James Marsden. He’s white and not accepted by her controlling father. To deal with his nervousness Marsden’s character takes a tablet of what he thinks is valium. It’s not. Her drug-maker-genius brother made an hallucinogenic concoction and put it in the valium bottle for safe keeping.
It puts the guy into la-la land and if you haven’t seen the original it puts you into laughter land.
But that’s the problem. Craig made some changes to his script to make it more “American.” He didn’t make enough of them to give his movie a chance and a PG-13 rating.
It’s a solid R. Rock and Lawrence and known for their F-bombs and they fairly fly in this one.
And there’s Marsden’s (Enchanted) naked back side. It’s more than I wanted to see.
While this isn’t close to as funny as Craig’s 2007 effort, it is — aside from a lot of unnecessary language — a decent comedy. And the who’s who African American cast guarantees there will be no box office funeral for Death at a Funeral.
Mr. Movie rating: 3 stars
Rated R for mature themes, language and nudity. It opens Friday, April 16 at the Carmike 12 and the Fairchild Cinemas 12.
5 stars to 4 1/2 stars: Must see on the big screen
4 stars to 3 1/2 stars: Good film, see it if it's your type of movie.
3 stars to 2 1/2 stars: Wait until it comes out on video.
2 stars to 1 star: Don't bother.
0 stars: Speaks for itself.