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DEATH AT A FUNERAL(director: Frank Oz; screenwriter: Dean Craig; cinematographer: Oliver Curtis; editor: Beverley Mills; music: Murray Gold; cast: Matthew Macfadyen (Daniel), Keeley Hawes (Jane), Andy Nyman (Howard), Ewen Bremner (Justin), Daisy Donovan (Martha), Alan Tudyk (Simon), Jane Asher (Sandra), Kris Marshall (Troy), Rupert Graves (Robert), Peter Vaughan (Uncle Alfie), Thomas Wheatley (the Reverend), Peter Egan (Victor), Peter Dinklage (Peter); Runtime: 90; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Diana Phillips/Share Stallings/Laurence Malkin/Sidney Kimmel; Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures and Sidney Kimmel Entertainment; 2007-UK/USA)
“Feels strained.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A silly and crass Brit black comedy that feels strained and is not too often rollicking laugh out loud comedy. Muppeteer turned filmmaker Frank Oz (“Bowfinger”/”In & Out”/”Stepford Wives”) brings his uneven record with him as he adroitly tries to spin comedy out of the farcical situation of uproarious chaos at a dignified funeral and desperately tries to make the best of a one-note comedy scenario; it’s based on the nutty script by Dean Craig. Though it does an adequate job of laying it into a bourgeois clan coming apart at a funeral, the whole thing comes off as rather slight and in the end gives way in its darkness to gooey sentimentality.

An upper- middle-class Brit family have gathered to bury their family patriarch. There’s the grieving reserved wife (Jane Asher) and the deceased’s two opposite personality adult sons, the uptight aspiring sad sack writer Daniel (Matthew MacFadyen) and the successful writer Robert (Rupert Graves), who has been living in New York for the past several years and has made his brother jealous of his fame. Daniel’s wife (Keeley Hawes) looks forward to hubby now getting enough money from the inheritance so that they can move out of his parent’s large country home and get a flat of their own in London. Meanwhile Daniel is pissed that his brother refuses to split the cost of the funeral and is sticking him with all the expenses, and he’s also worried that he will be giving the eulogy and not his more articulate brother. Their devoted niece Martha (Daisy Donovan) brings along her square fianc√© Simon (Alan Tudyk), who is mistakenly given an hallucinogenic instead of Valium to calm his nerves when they stop off at the bachelor pad of Troy (Kris Marshall), Martha’s freethinking pharmacy student brother, to give him a ride to the funeral. Simon soon develops a severe overreaction to the drug and embarrasses himself in front of Martha’s stuffy doctor father (Peter Egan). Arriving with the prickly wheelchair-bound nursing home resident Uncle Alfie (Peter Vaughan) are family acquaintances–the creepy germophobe Howard (Andy Nyman), Daniel’s best friend, and the even more creepy Justin (Ewen Bremner), who obnoxiously pines after Martha even though she snubs him ever since she let him have her in a one-night stand when blindly drunk.

The outrageous situations come fast and furious (with a number of sight gags) to upset the dignity of the funeral while the clan tries its best to maintain a stiff upper lip. Simon calls attention to himself by acting bizarre; the reverend (Thomas Wheatley), on an overbooked schedule, is anxious to begin the service and get to his next task. The drugged-out Simon will eventually strip nude, going on the roof threatening to jump while the mourners watch in amazement. A dwarf named Peter (Peter Dinklage), an uninvited and unknown guest, blackmails Daniel to give him fifteen thousand pounds or else he will show the family photos of him and his father in their lover’s embraces. Peter is upset that Daniel’s father left him out of the will. Later on the dwarf will be mistakenly given the same hallucinogenic drugs while being held hostage and hogtied in the study by the brothers, who now unite to save the reputation of their dad and seemingly patch up their simmering resentments. There’s also potty comedy derived from the sniveling Howard, who gets sprayed in the face with Alfie’s shit while rushing him to the toilet in an emergency.

The dependence on a large number of gross-out gags to get over left me with a few mild guffaws, but there was nothing else about it to make me think this wasn’t anything but routine comedy that might appeal to some a bit more than to others.

REVIEWED ON 10/28/2007 GRADE: C+

Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”