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Solemn Event Turns Into a Free-For-All in 'Death at a Funeral'

Chris Rock stars in "Death At a Funeral"

A family gathers for the funeral of their father; but sibling rivalries and long-hidden secrets turn it from a solemn remembrance into a madcap free-for-all in "Death at a Funeral," the American remake of a 2007 British farce.

"Brian, who is this?"
"You know I asked myself the same thing when my dad passed. I said 'who is this man?'"
"No, who is in this coffin because that is not my father."

The day of funeral does not start well for Aaron, played by Chris Rock. As the oldest son, he is determined that the memorial for his father be appropriate and respectful as the far-flung family gathers in his parlor. There's his mom, the grieving widow only consoled by her favorite son Ryan, Aaron's younger (and more successful) brother.

There's a motley assortment of cousins and, of course, the cantankerous old uncle. But the funeral guests also include a stranger whose relationship with the family - notably the deceased - will shake everyone up.

Peter Dinklage is the mystery guest, repeating the role he played in the 2007 original version of "Death at A Funeral" that was set amid a stodgy, upper-crust English family. For the 2010 version, producer and star Chris Rock moves the action to the Los Angeles home of an upper middle-class black American family, but follows pretty much the same story.

"When you know a movie's ending works your life is so much easier," he said. "I've remade a few movies and they all have one thing in common: great endings."

Director Neil LaBute on the set of "Death At a Funeral"
Director Neil LaBute on the set of "Death At a Funeral"

"You know you're climbing the same mountain, but you want to find a new way to do it as well," said Neil LaBute, a filmmaker known for dark edgy dramas. LaBute is director of the remake and insists he has only respect for the original and its director, Frank Oz.

"You want it to be your own and yet, especially in this case, I think everyone who had seen it really loved it," he said. "There was no sense of 'oh, we can make this better.' It's just that we're going to make it our own.

"Do you remember the guy that came by a little earlier that we didn't recognize?"
"The dude in the leather jacket?"
"Yes. Well, he showed me some pictures of him and dad."
"So he showed you some pictures. What's wrong with that?"
"Pictures of him and dad …together."
"Oh, daddy!"

Martin Lawrence in "Death At a Funeral"
Martin Lawrence in "Death At a Funeral"

Martin Lawrence plays the self-centered younger brother.

"My man, Chris Rock, gave me a call personally," Lawrence said. "When he first called I said 'sorry Chris I can't do that.' Then he sent me the British version and I thought it was very funny; and when he told me it was about playing his brother I said I have to be on board."

Tracy Morgan is a well-meaning, if inept, cousin in the large ensemble cast that, Morgan says, makes the comedy easier.

Tracy Morgan in "Death at a Funeral"
Tracy Morgan in "Death at a Funeral"

"When you have all these people you know you are not doing it by yourself," he said. "You don't have to do it, so you don't feel the pressure. We all knew our roles and you bring who you are …bring your bag of funny."

Among those whose 'bag of funny' holds some surprises is James Marsden, whose character, accidentally under the influence of hallucinogenic drugs, loses all his clothes midway through movie.

"It was fine," he said. "I've always said nudity is not a problem for me, but it must be in a comedy. I'm uncomfortable asking the audience to take it seriously and get naked; but if it's for a joke, I'll do it."

The nudity and drug- and sex-related humor earn "Death At A Funeral" an "R" rating - meaning those under 17 can not see it at American theaters unless accompanied by an adult. While the family at the center of the story is black, star and producer Rock thinks "Death at a Funeral" can entertain all audiences.

"I think we made an 'American' family comedy," he said. "Despite the 'R,' I think this a movie you can see with your whole family and this is a movie for absolutely everybody."

The "Death at a Funeral" ensemble includes Zoe Saldana, Columbus Short, Danny Glover, Regina Hall, Luke Wilson and Keith David.