Sorry if this seems repetitive, but remakes suck.
Remakes really, really suck. This isn't opinion. It's fact. It's a fact that can be proven quite easily. Look at the boring rather than scary 'Shutter.' The excess to the point of ridiculousness found in Tim Burton remakes ('Planet of the Apes,' 'Alice in Wonderland'). The completely dreadful 'The Invasion.' The washed up actress horror vehicles 'The Grudge' and 'The Eye.' And dare I mention the guilt trip that 'The Day the Earth Stood Still' became?
And these are just some of the cash-in excretions that have hit Blu-ray, not even mentioning the soulless 'Alfie,' the horribly unfunny 'The Longest Yard,' the indescribable (but not in a good way) 'The Stepford Wives,' or the Madonna-laden (now that's a mean adjective) 'Swept Away.'
Taking existing awesomeness, or a loyal fan base, and trying to get a new demographic to like the ideas or expressions shown within isn't a crime. In fact, I think it's a good thing, considering how some of the classic stories may go unheard due to whatever barrier holding them back from an audience. But it's all in the execution. The only reason a studio needs to remake a film these days is obviously green, paper-y, and easily countable (besides the obvious lack of originality filling Tinsel Town, but that's for another review).
With all that in mind, I don't want to hate the 2010 retelling of 2007's 'Death at a Funeral.' In fact, I don't hate it one bit. I only hate what it represents.
For those unfamiliar with the quirky British comedy of the same name, this is the story of how things can go wrong all at once, and how each individual mishap can snowball to create a cataclysmic grand finale. The family patriarch has passed on, and this is the day of his funeral. The survivors don't seem too ready to take on their new responsibilities. Brothers Aaron (Chris Rock) and Ryan (Martin Lawrence) are caught up in their petty squabbling and jealousies, while Aaron's lovely wife Michelle (Regina Hall) tries to bring the first grandchild into the family, something the newfound widow (the woefully underappreciated Loretta Devine) wants more than anything in her time of grief.
The other members of the extended, dysfunctional family aren't making the day any easier. Elaine (Zoe Saldana) and her new beau Oscar (James Marsden) have to deal with one of Elaine's past lovers (Luke Wilson) and her disapproving father (Ron Glass), while family friend Norman (Tracy Morgan) and Elaine's brother Jeff (Columbus Short) create disasters with every one of their words, actions, or ideas. Throw in a mysterious stranger (Peter Dinklage) with a dark, dark secret, and this funeral will be anything but fun.
'Death at a Funeral' doesn't try to outdo its source material. Far from it. It tries to emulate it, in a manner worthy of Gus Van Sant's approval. Does it work? Sometimes. The spirit of the original is untouched, but a few things have changed. The characters this time around give us a bit less to like, meaning it can be hard to truly feel for their problems, and more line readings are dry, creating a different kind of humor, that's a bit more grounded, possibly more realistic. Some of the changes are so minor they go with little notice, besides the fact that a new person is playing the character, and even then, that's not always true, as Dinklage reprises his utterly hilarious, unexpected role.
Teaming Rock, Lawrence, and Morgan seems like a comedy godsend, particularly with the rest of the supporting cast, but watching the three battle for center stage makes me wonder how the 2010-2011 Miami Heat, with their new superstar trio, will coexist. I've never been a real Lawrence fan, but I appreciate his performance here, as he very much keeps it in line, never going overboard. Even Rock is somewhat subdued, though I can never shake the feeling that I'm watching Chris Rock try to be someone else. Doesn't work with his all-too recognizable voice.
Amazingly, this remake doesn't go all extreme, and only one segment (the one involving excrement) can be considered more graphic and excessive. It's so very much worse than before. The only real problem here is the fact that too many pop culture references are thrown in, instantly dating the film.
Danny Glover is solid in his supporting role, providing some great line readings and expressions, but he's often foiled by the two major negative distractions in the film: Marsden and Wilson. Luke Wilson hams it up, and never truly fits in with the scenes he's chewing, while Marsden is beyond horrific in his portrayal of the bad kind of "trip." His role in the film is to make an ass out of himself, and he does, there is no arguing that. It's just not in the way he was supposed to. Imagine, if you will, the hilarious convention scene in 'Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,' and remember the corny presentation points. That's what Marsden feels like: someone on the outside looking in, exaggerating so much that he may as well have a sign saying "LOOK AT ME" flashing above him.
So, in closing....remakes suck, in theory and in practice. 'Death at a Funeral' (2007) was hardly original, but it was quite fun, funny, and very reachable. 'Death at a Funeral' (2010) isn't nearly as funny, has completely unlikeable characters, and doesn't aspire to add anything to the story besides a few bad one-liners, but I'm glad it was made, and for more reason than having two of the most beautiful actresses in Hollywood together at once. It raises awareness of the Frank Oz (the almighty Yoda) directed gem, and compiles an all-star cast (even if miscast) that will help expose a good story to a new audience.
Given the AVC MPEG-4 (2.40:1, 1080p) treatment, 'Death at a Funeral' is anything but dead. In fact, it's quite stellar...visually. From the almost perfect skin tones (I can't tell if it's just Saldana's skin, but she's occasionally a bit splotchy, to quote the film), with amazingly contoured facial features, to the amazingly deep, three dimensional picture, with splendid edges, great detail levels (particularly the stitches on Morgan's suit), and on the mark contrast levels, this remake looks utterly splendid. Black levels are appropriate, though shadow detail is only average. If I had to register a complaint, it would be that white levels are absolutely perfect, pitch perfect in interiors, but have a blue tint in exteriors that I couldn't help but stare at, drawing me away from the vivid colors and great personality the video had otherwise. This isn't quite demo material, but it's definitely what Blu-ray is all about.
When watching a Blu-ray, I do my best to write notes in three sections: the movie, the video, and the audio. It helps me remember to mention particular parts of the experience I just had. The funny thing about 'Death at a Funeral''s DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix? In just over 90 minutes, I found myself writing just one line. One stinking line.
That's how plain jane, vanilla, bland, nondescript, and/or uninspiring this track is, when "rear activity light from the start, some very soft ambience in a few scenes, but in many, it's utterly, inappropriately empty" is the only thing I have to say about it. There are no volume spikes, and only one moment bass comes out to play, ever-so-briefly. Dialogue is crisp, clean, and clear, easy on the ears, to be sure, but I expect a bit more from a film made in 2010. I expect full rooms to sound full. I expect even the slightest bit of localized dialogue when there's a room, or entire backyard, full of conversation. I expect something other than the score to hit the rears at some point. It's not that this track is a botched job. Far from it. It's just so damn generic that it pulls one out of the experience.
The 'Death at a Funeral' remake isn't the best comedy made in recent years, but it's certainly enjoyable for those willing to give it a shot. Originality isn't in the equation, but star power, as well as a slightly broader audience appeal make up for it. Those on the fence on this release may be stunned by the video quality on this Blu-ray, though the audio is beyond tame, and the extras are too skimpy for their own good. It's worth a look, though I'd recommend the German import of the original instead.