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DEATH AT A FUNERAL

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Ewen Bremmer, Peter Dinklage, Matthew MacFadyen, Kris Marshall, Alan Tudyk
Director: Frank Oz
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1, Full Screen 1.33:1
Studio: MGM
Features: See Review
Length: 91 Minutes
Release Date: February 26, 2008

“Why are my hands so big?”

Film **1/2

The idea of a dark comedy with the sole setting of a funeral is a genius idea, and the appropriately titled Death of a Funeral has some dynamically funny moments…just not enough of them. When I saw that veteran director Frank Oz was making a British based comedy about the most disastrous funeral ever, I couldn’t wait to see it. And while this is easily better than Oz’s remake of The Stepford Wives, it’s nowhere near the likes of the director’s best, especially Bowfinger and The Score.

The story centers around, of course, a funeral. One of the first scenes sets the tone for the rest of the film. Daniel (Matthew MacFadyen) is first shown the coffin containing his father, who is about to be put underground. It looks fine except for one thing; they seemed to have placed the wrong body in the coffin.

But this is only going to be the first of Daniel’s problems as the proceedings get underway. The guests begin to arrive, and about every three of them will experience some form of embarrassing disaster during the course of the film. By the end of the funeral, it’ll be a miracle if the guests aren’t involved in a car pile up as they leave.

The title itself is a genius one, and truth be told the film is very funny in segments. But for me, a dark comedy has got to be more frequently funny and much more envelope pushing. I think back to true dark comedies like Fargo and Very Bad Things, films that really knew how to mix darkness and comedy seamlessly. This film, in all it’s 90 minutes, is only capable in delivering half the amount of laughs by comparison.

And, to make matters worse, if you had the misfortune to see the trailer of the movie, then you really needn’t waste your time. As it turns out, and I found out after seeing the film, all the hilarious bits were already showcased in the trailer. When are the people who cut together trailers going to get their act together?

The biggest laughs in the film are provided from actor Alan Tudyk, an American actor with a most convincing British accent. His character takes what he’s told is valium during the proceedings, only to have actually swallowed LSD. The results are some classic bits involving countless hallucinations, and Tudyk’s physical performance comes close to saving the film.

The last half hour of the film deals with an unexpected guest, a pint sized American named Peter (Peter Dinklage). It turns out, Peter was connected to the deceased in a most intimate way. This segment is not without its share of laughs, but the whole scenario feels more like a gimmick than anything meaningful.

Maybe I was just demanding a bit more from the film. I tend to get that way sometimes, mostly when it comes to dark comedies, as I always expect them to be pitch perfect in the balancing of tones. Death At a Funeral is not a laughless enterprise, but Frank Oz and the black comedy genre is a combination that is capable of delivering some more special.

Video ***

The anamorphic job on this MGM release is fairly well handled. The single setting is accompanied with a most reliable piece of image quality. A bit pixilated in some scenes but for the most part quite a good-looking presentation. A Full Screen version is also included.

Audio **1/2

The 5.1 mix does what it can with this entirely dialogue-driven piece. Spoken words are heard in terrific form, but nothing much else gives the presentation much boost, as far as surround sound is concerned.

Features **

Included on this disc are two commentary tracks; the first with director Frank Oz, the second with screenwriter Dean Craig and cast members Alan Tudyk and Andy Nyman. Lastly, there is a gag reel.

Summary:

Death At a Funeral has all the right elements for a classic dark comedy. Its execution, however, leaves a bit more to desired. Funny in segments, but not enough to be appreciated.

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