Film Reviews

Chris Rock's 'Death at a Funeral' True to the Britcom Version, Save a Jet Magazine Reference

It doesn’t take much to improve the first Death at a Funeral, the flat Frank Oz–directed Britcom of 2007; a few tossed-off references to Jet and sickle cell anemia will do it. Though the plot of Dean Craig’s original script remains almost entirely intact (he receives the sole writer’s credit), the tweaks by star-producer Chris Rock — who replaces the pallid ninnies of London with a mostly African-American extended clan gathered in Pasadena to say goodbye to a deceased patriarch — yield some particularly sharp specifics.

Rock plays elder son Aaron, whose successful-writer younger brother, Ryan (Martin Lawrence), has made his riches off books titled Mama’s Secret, Black Hurt, and Rhonda’s Tiny Box. Eulogizing Dad before learning about his life on the “waaaaay down-low” (Peter Dinklage reprises his role as the extorting secret boyfriend), Aaron refers to his father’s “love of Golden Girls, especially when it went into syndication.”

But Rock’s interventions can’t compensate for excessive fealty to dumb gags involving watery poop and designer hallucinogens. Some cast members bring welcome controlled mania: Tracy Morgan, as a hypochondriacal friend of the family, further hones his logorrheic outbursts. Others, like Luke Wilson, as a scorned suitor of Zoe Saldana, are such null presences that they should have been in the original.

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Melissa Anderson is the senior film critic at the Village Voice, for which she first began writing in 2000. Her work also appears in the publications of the Voice’s film partner, Voice Media Group: LA Weekly, Denver Westword, Phoenix New Times, Miami New Times, Broward-Palm Beach New Times, Houston Press and Dallas Observer.