Responsible tax accountant Aaron (Rock) has his hands full at his father's funeral when the arrivals of his feckless brother (Lawrence), an extended family with secrets, a blackmailer (Dinklage) with a bombshell to drop, a mislabelled bottle of drugs and the wrong corpse all coincide in comic mayhem.
If this plot sounds familiar, it’s because the original, British version of Dean Craig’s funeral farce, which was directed by Frank Oz and featured an ensemble led by Matthew Macfadyen, only came out (and quickly went) in 2007. Two things the films have in common: Craig’s screenplay and Peter Dinklage reprising his role as the uninvited mystery mourner. Brace yourself for a shock. The American re-make is waaay better.
Directed smartly by Neil LaBute — whose risible re-make of The Wicker Man looked like the end of one of his careers (although he still seems to be writing and directing new plays on Broadway every five minutes) — it’s much faster, far funnier, and rings truer, with a savvy cast of comic actors who feel more natural at playing screwball, slapstick and some cheerfully excruciating vulgarity. The uptight upper-middle-class British milieu has been swapped for emotionally freer California, with a predominantly African-American ensemble whose timing and energy are flawless. Among them are Danny Glover (who must have it in his contract that he says, “I’m getting too old for this shit,” in every film, but has never announced it more aptly than here as the irascible, incontinent old uncle), Regina Hall as Aaron’s wife, unwilling to let burial solemnities interfere with her obsessive efforts to get pregnant, and Loretta Devine as his mother, whose grieving only exacerbates her nagging. Also aboard, as love rivals for Zoe Saldana, are Luke Wilson and James Marsden. The latter, building on his comedic turn in Enchanted, is a hysterical treat as the fiancé whose calming “Valium” is intended to relax him before he runs the gauntlet of disapproving soon-to-be relatives, but instead sends him giggling through the ceiling. And can we just say: if anyone had to dangle naked from a rooftop, we’re so glad it was him; the man is fi-yi-ine.
Rock, one of the film’s producers, has never been as simply likable as he is here, trying desperately to restore order among a trying collection of kin. 30 Rock’s resident jester, Tracy Morgan, is a particular scream, and Dinklage is even more menacing and furiously funny than he was the first time, but everyone has a macabre or manic moment and a deft way with a line.
Dead funny and enjoyable: who'd have thought it?