Good son Daniel (Matthew MacFadyen, "Pride & Prejudice") begins the day of his dad's funeral with a hysterical mother, the return of his famous author brother and delivery of a casket containing the wrong body, but these things will seem mere blips on the radar by the time the service nears completion as Daniel tries to cover up a "Death at a Funeral."
Director Frank Oz ("Bowfinger," "The Stepford Wives") crosses the pond to make a typically English farce, but while it has its moments it is also mired in truly offputting scatological 'humor,' absurdly forced setups and a simply horrible performance from famous former Beatle girlfriend Jane Asher ("Dreamchild") as the clan's matriarch. It's an attempt to mix staid Brits with low comedy that just feels, well, low.
As Daniel sweats out the details with his supportive wife Jane (Keeley Hawes, "Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story"), Oz cuts to the funeral's attendees to set up their comic paths. Cousin Martha (Daisy Donovan, "Millions") and her patriarchically loathed fiance Simon (Alan Tudyk, "Serenity," "Knocked Up") stop to pick up Martha's brother Troy (Kris Marshall, "Love Actually") whose apartment is strewn with mislabelled pill bottles (wow, I cannot see where this is going...and going...and going). Howard (Andy Nyman, "Severance") and Justin (Ewen Bremner, "Trainspotting") struggle with irritable, wheelchair-bound Uncle Alfie (Peter Vaughan, Anthony Hopkins' dad in "The Remains of the Day"). Brother Robert (Rupert Graves, "Mrs Dalloway") arrives from New York complaining about his First Class service to cash-strapped Daniel, who must also endure every guest's lament that he and not his writer brother is not giving the eulogy. And then there is that mysterious 'small person' (Peter Dinklage, "The Station Agent," "Find Me Guilty") who keeps trying to get Daniel's attention.
Writer Dean Craig's most inspired idea was to introduce a case of manslaughter into the proceedings that has somewhat amusing payoff, but otherwise this is the type of film where the deceased spills out of his coffin, people are splattered with feces and if one person can accidentally take a hallucinogen, three are funnier. Big kudos to Alan Tudyk as the first tripped out victim to actually make his reactions funny and to Donovan for her crazed, urgent loyalty. Oz's best contributions are keeping the pace of a slamming door comedy and the elaborate beats of the deceased's gay reveal montage, a gag that has been largely blown in the film's trailer.
MacFadyen also maintains sympathy throughout as the put upon elder brother and Craig does include a turnaround for the self-absorbed Robert, a role Graves makes seem easy. A running joke involving the constant delays made on The Reverend (Thomas Wheatley), who indicates early his need to leave for another engagement, is not given enough weight or punchline.
As the audience award winner at this year's U.S. Comedy Fest, "Death at a Funeral" has clearly amused many, but this is a comedy that favors mania over wit and requires a high tolerance for sh*&$. It didn't evoke more than the occasional smile from this viewer.
Robi did not see this film.
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