Funny and frantic antics, but oh, what language!

Tracy Morgan (left) and Chris Rock play a nephew and the dutiful son of the deceased in "Death at a Funeral."
Tracy Morgan (left) and Chris Rock play a nephew and the dutiful son of the deceased in "Death at a Funeral."
Posted: April 16, 2010

Potty mouths, potty jokes, and dotty performances are the chief selling points of Death at a Funeral, Neil LaBute's alternately sidesplitting and poop-splattered remake of the 2007 Frank Oz movie about everything that can go wrong at a patriarch's last rites.

Los Angeles replaces England as the setting for the frantic antics. Chris Rock and Martin Lawrence headline as the deceased's respectively dutiful and prodigal sons, a would-be writer and his successful-novelist sibling.

The all-star mourners include widow Loretta Devine, curmudgeonly brother Danny Glover, loopy nephew Tracy Morgan, gorgeous niece Zoe Saldana, and James Marsden as her manic beau. Much of the film's humor comes from the fact that she gives him a pill labeled Valium that turns out to be a hallucinogen cooked up by her pharmacist brother.

Peter Dinklage reprises his role as the patriarch's special friend who shares the deceased's secret with his startled sons. Look carefully at the dead man's study and the secret is not so much of a surprise.

Before Death, the most mystifying of multiplex paradoxes was that Chris Rock, the funniest man in America, is not major box-office but Chris Tucker, a minor talent with a motormouth, is.

Yet when you see Rock, uptight and cerebral, opposite Lawrence, loose and physical, you begin to see why. On stage as a stand-up comic, Rock prowls the stage like a lion about to squeeze laughs from his prey. On screen here, the rubber-limbed comic looks constrained, as though cast in concrete.

Still, with that comically hoarse delivery, Rock furnishes Death's funniest one-liners. He lets his costars deliver the slapstick goods.

Wild-eyed Morgan, with his manic patter, and zonked-out Marsden, as the hallucinating beau, wring every possible laugh from this door-slamming, coffin-dropping, secret-spilling, acid-tripping farce briskly directed by LaBute. The square-jawed Marsden, best known as the prince in Enchanted, is increasingly hilarious as the tripper capable of expressing delight, horror, melancholy, and transcendence in the same nanosecond.

Verdict? Mixed. Loved the slapstick, winced at the toilet humor, and mourned that the female performers were given so little to do. Funeral is funnier the second time around.


Contact movie critic Carrie Rickey at 215-854-5402 or crickey@ phillynews.com. Read her blog at www.philly.com/philly/blogs/flickgrrl.

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