A-List Cast Squandered in Blackface Remake of Brit Farce
Death at a Funeral sounds like a classic case of a production that probably sounded like a “can’t miss” when its assorted elements were being pitched to studio execs. First of all, it’s a remake of a recent British hit which quintupled its $9 million budget at the box office.
The fact that the original was just released in 2007 wouldn’t be a problem, theoretically, because they’d be going after a different demographic, as this version would feature a predominantly African-American cast. Furthermore, not just any black actors would be asked to execute this dark comedy, but a trio of A-list comedians in Chris Rock, Tracy Morgan and Martin Lawrence, plus a bevy of accomplished thespians like Keith David, Zoe Saldana, Danny Glover and Loretta Devine.
And the icing on the cake that got it greenlighted involved attaching art house crowd darling Neil LaBute to the project, the director of such critically-acclaimed indies as In the Company of Men and Your Friends & Neighbors. Unfortunately, while all of the above must’ve looked great on the drawing board, this blackface variation on the theme adds up to far less than the sum of its parts.
Here’s why. Rather than overhaul the screenplay to appeal to an African-American sense of humor, LaBute opted to recycle one designed to tickle British fancies. Consequently, Messrs. Rock, Morgan and Lawrence seem almost shackled sticking to a script which allowed them little room to improvise or to horse around in their trademark styles.