In 1998 Gus Van Sant reconstructed Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho frame by frame and shot for shot ultimately achieving very little other than to emphasise the superior quality of the latter.
Fast-forward a decade and Chris Rock has inexplicably decided to remake Frank Oz’s limp 2007 effort of the same title culminating in a film that, if it doesn’t recreate its predecessor in the manner of Van Sant, fails to at least learn from its mistakes. Astonishingly, Rock missed the glaringly obvious fact that it wasn’t funny.
The storyline hasn’t changed. Whilst a family buries its patriarch several interweaving plots, ranging from sibling rivalry to accidentally ingested hallucinogens and gay midgets, threaten to cast the funeral into total chaos which reliably ensues in a humdrum manner. These three seperate strands, which form the basis for the majority of the ‘gags’, are relentlessly recycled ad nauseam and constitute well over two-thirds of the running time at the expense of character development and narrative progression.
Employing a similar structure to Fawlty Towers, Death At A Funeral aspires to over-the-top farce but accomplishes nothing in the process other than to irritate its audience with predictable twists and hideously scripted dialogue. In the cinema that I saw this in, the joke that got the biggest laugh involved Danny Glover defecating onto Tracy Morgan’s hand which becomes accidentally trapped underneath his anus. Somehow Glover’s shit also manages to get on his face and, judging by the aim, his mouth as well. At this point I genuinely felt physically assaulted and momentarily considered whether or not to burn down the projection room. In a state of absolute depression I decided to get drunk afterwards instead.
The most significant alterations are the change of location and the racial make-up of the cast; instead of British middle-class suburbia the action now takes place in affluent Pasadena, California; in place of an all white cast the family is now black with some token Caucasians thrown in for a couple of badly written gags. Neither variation particularly enriches the narrative.
Where Gus Van Sant should have known better than to meddle with a critically acclaimed classic, Rock – if he has any comic sensibility whatsoever – should be able to spot a howler when he sees one. Simply put: Death At A Funeral is about as witty as the pun of its title.