Death at a Funeral (R) ★★

Review Date: January 6th, 2011

Though best-known for his stand-up work in acclaimed HBO specials like Bring the Pain, Never Scared, and Kill the Messenger, funnyman Chris Rock has also found success in both TV and film -- enough, presumably, to allow him the freedom to pursue just about any project he wants. Why he chose to remake Death at a Funeral, an indie comedy from the UK that received a decidedly lukewarm reception when it debuted in 2007, is anybody's guess. Even more perplexing is why Neil LaBute, a brainy director who made his name probing humanity's dark side with acerbic dramas In the Company of Men and Your Friends & Neighbors, chose to direct it.

Immersed in an ensemble overloaded with comedic dead weight, Rock gets few chances to showcase his caustic wit as Aaron, a levelheaded tax accountant tasked with presiding over a chaotic memorial service for his father. That's because LaBute thinks our time is better spent watching James Marsden make funny faces or hearing Tracy Morgan complain about a skin rash. In fact, almost the entire first half of the film is devoted to the former, with Marsden engaged in a prolonged slapstick routine as a character unwittingly plied with a giant hit of acid. Which is about as funny as it sounds.

Were LaBute not so inordinately focused on Marsden's wearisome bit, he might have found a use for Luke Wilson, whose character is almost completely pointless, or Danny Glover, whose big moment in Death at a Funeral comes as the centerpiece of scat gag that leaves Morgan covered in his feces. Classy! When he isn't soaking in Glover's sh*t, Morgan does little to redeem himself after his Cop Out debacle, lingering perpetually in a sort of comedic limbo, a funny punchline always just out of reach.

Death at a Funeral eventually picks up steam when Rock faces off with Peter Dinklage, playing a would-be extortionist who arrives at the funeral with damaging revelations about the deceased. It's enough to end the film on a high note but not enough to redeem it as a whole. By the time the titular "death" arrived, I'd long ago begun to wonder if it might have been intended as a metaphor, one perhaps signifying the demise of creativity. Or good taste. Or LaBute's career. rated this film 2 stars.