April 16th, 2010 | by ALISTAIR ROCKOFF News | Posted In: CLEAN UP, CLEAN UP

Laughing at Black People: Death at a Funeral Reviewed

Not screened by WW press deadlines, it just might be the worst comedy of the year!

Death at a Funeral

Death at a Funeral

WW Critic's Score: 5

Tracy Morgan has poop on his hand! The comedian stares at the offending appendage, screaming in horror. This is the worst thing that could possibly happen. The audience is screaming too, in laughter. When Morgan tries to wash up, water sprays all over. The laughter begins to redouble – Tracy Morgan has poop on his face! Expectations have been exceeded, and the movie theater erupts.

I myself wasn't convinced, but I could see the appeal. While most comedies today are pretentiously awful, Death at a Funeral is unpretentiously awful, a delivery system for ugly gags, with none of them dependent on remembering last week's pop song or last year's TV show. From its excremental “high point,” the movie gallops nimbly through its farcical plot – a family gathering gone awry – to a conclusion of crowd-pleasing sentiment. When I saw the first Death at a Funeral in 2007, it featured white Englishmen performing the same screenplay. Both versions have the actor Peter Dinklage as a homosexual dwarf who gets stuffed in a coffin. It's peek-a-boo theater, so quaintly old-fashioned, you expect to see King Charles II credited as writer, instead of…Dean Craig.

But there's nothing quaint about this African American remake directed by Neil LaBute. If it doesn't expose the acclaimed playwright as a bigot, I don't know what will. Rather than simply casting black actors, he has typecast them, resulting in every cheap stereotype you can imagine. Tracy Morgan plays the big baby. Martin Lawrence plays the horny devil. Danny Glover plays Uncle Grumpy. And Chris Rock, a producer on the film, plays his usual angry straight man to all the silly black people, emasculated by a sexually demanding wife (Regina Hall). He snaps at her, “Hey! My father's dead! Put some panties on!” The only other “normal” characters are Zoe Saldana and her two white boyfriends, one of them made almost likeable by casting Luke Wilson, with James Marsden's goofiness excused by a drug mix-up. All that's missing is Samuel L. Jackson as a big scary policeman. That was LaBute's last movie, Lakeview Terrace.

Whether this has anything to do with LaBute's Mormon background, I'm not sure, but I'm going to suggest it, while noting that there are obviously Mormon filmmakers who are not racist, like the ones who made Napoleon Dynamite. LaBute's actors know what they're doing. In between terrible one-liners, Chris Rock actually asks Tracy Morgan, “Why you grinnin' like Louis Armstrong?” Good question. R.

Death at a Funeral opens Friday at Cinema 99 Stadium 11, Cinemas Bridgeport Village Stadium 18 IMAX, City Center Stadium 12, Cornelius 9 Cinemas, Division Street Stadium 13, Evergreen Parkway Stadium 13, Hilltop 9 Cinema, Lloyd Mall 8 Cinema, Movies On TV Stadium 16, Pioneer Place Stadium 6, Sherwood Stadium 10, Tigard 11 Cinemas, Wilsonville Stadium 9 Cinema.
 
  • Currently 3.5/5 Stars.
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