In my opinion Chris Rock is pound for pound the best stand-up comic working in film today. However he doesn't often get the credit he deserves for his attempts at make interesting, thought provoking and funny films rather than just giving in and making stupid Hollywood comedies. Rock has never played a fat woman in a movie like some of his peers so often do. No, instead the actor/comedian who is also an accomplished writer and director makes remakes of obscure French films like "Chloe in the Afternoon" ("I think I love My Wife") or Warren Beatty movies from the '70s like "Heaven Can Wait" ("Down To Earth"). So it should be no surprise that the actor's latest picture is a remake of the Frank Oz directed, 2007 British comedy "Death at a Funeral. " Except this time the funeral farce moves from the quiet British countryside to sunny Pasadena, California and features an all-star cast of comedians and respected actors including Martin Lawrence, Tracy Morgan, James Marsden, Luke Wilson, Peter Dinklage and Danny Glover.
In the film Chris Rock plays Aaron, an aspiring writer who has sacrificed his dreams to help his family. He lives in his parent's house with his wife Michelle (Regina Hall) and his mother played by Loretta Devine. Michelle desperately wants a baby, not only for herself but to please her mother-in-law, however Aaron is too preoccupied with his father's death and the impending funeral. Returning for the ceremony is Aaron's successful brother Ryan, a famous novelist and the hero of the family who his harboring a secret of his own. Ryan is a cocky ladies man and not appreciative of what Aaron has sacrificed for the family. Also going to the wedding is Aaron and Ryan's younger cousins, Elaine (Zoë Saldana) and Jeff (Columbus Short) and Elaine's new boyfriend, Oscar delightfully played by James Marsden, who is eager to make a good impression. Since Oscar is nervous about meeting the family, Elaine decides that it would be a good idea to give him one of Jeff's volume pills to calm him down. Unfortunately the pill turns out not be a volume but instead some sort of chemically engineered LSD that Jeff designed for extra cash while studying at Pepperdine.
Aaron needs someone to pick up his cranky Uncle Russell from the retirement home so he calls his good friend, the slightly strange Norman, played by the fantastic Tracy Morgan. Along for the ride with Norman is Derek, his best friend and Elaine's ex, who desperately want to win her back. Since Aaron is the oldest, even if it's only by nine months, he wants to give the eulogy even though everyone thinks that Ryan, the professional writer should do it. Aaron soon meets Frank, an odd (and short) stranger with a big secret. He tells Aaron that he would like to have a few words with him but he is too busy worrying about the eulogy. As the ceremony begins and Aaron's big moment arrives, Oscar's drugs begin to kick in and he freaks out when he thinks that the casket is coming alive. The family takes a break to regroup, which is when Frank decides to reveal his big secret to Aaron ... he was his father's long-time gay lover and wants $30,000 or he will tell Aaron's mother. What follows next is an absolute farce, which includes Aaron and Ryan dealing with the blackmailer, Elaine and Jeff dealing with a zapped-out Oscar who decides to get naked on the roof and Norman dealing with a messy Uncle Russell.
Rock displays a very grounding and impressive leading performance in the film. You have to give the actor credit for at least trying to challenge his fan-base with a film like this. It's perfect for his audience yet introduces them to something that they might not have seen otherwise. Rock did something similar last year with his wonderful documentary "Good Hair," a film about the African-American hair community. The film was not only hilarious but brought light to a subject that might not otherwise have gotten any attention. If a fan of Rock's decides to go see this film and likes it, it could open them up to watching the original, which might open them up to watching different types of films. You have to give Rock a lot of credit for constantly challenging his audience and trying to make quality films, rather than movies about guys who dress up like fat women. Tracy Morgan has been gaining a reputation for being unpredictable and I love Morgan's act but it doesn't quite translate in the film as well as I would have liked. While the actor is still appealing and very funny in the film his shtick seems a bit forced and does make his character seem borderline mentally handicapped at times. That being said, it's really hard not to love Tract Morgan and his Norman does grown on you by the end.
Martin Lawrence is fine as the arrogant Ryan although you do get the feeling at times that he is playing a version of his of his own persona. The beautiful Zoë Saldana is great in the film and shows that she has some strong comedy chops even though she is basically the straight man in the film. Danny Glover is funny as the cranky old uncle and has some ridiculous scenes with Tracy Morgan that is not for the faint of stomach. Also keep an eye out for the actors trademark, "I'm too old for this shit" line from "Lethal Weapon." Oscar nominated actor Peter Dinklage reprises his role from the original film and while he is as good as always I'm afraid some of the character's punch is taken away by the fact that he was in the original and anyone who saw it knows the films secrets before they happen. But it is James Marsden's performance as the naked and dosed Oscar that really steals the film. Marsden is an actor who has flown under the radar for sometime and is best known for playing Cyclops in the "W-Men" films but I think he is quite talented and this movie really displays his comedic abilities. The film's director Neil LaBute does his best to orchestrate all the mayhem that happens from scene to scene and succeeds for the most part. The script by Rock is good, even if it is pretty much word for word the same as the original. I do give the actor credit for adapting the material well and the result is a funny and at times touching film about family and dealing with your loved ones. In the end, "Death At A Funeral" is hilarious and from the heart. It's the perfect film for anyone that has ever thought they were going to go crazy dealing with their family.