Who's In It: Chris Rock, Martin Lawrence, Zoe Saldana, Columbus Short, James Marsden, Peter Dinklage, Danny Glover, Loretta Devine, Tracy Morgan, Luke Wilson, Keith David
The Basics: Beleaguered accountant Aaron (Chris Rock) tries to hold it together when friends and family pour into his home for his father's funeral, unleashing an unholy mess of secrets and old wounds that culminate in one comic shenanigan after another. Among the day's trials: a stranger with a agenda (Peter Dinklage) and a hefty demand, Aaron's baby-hungry wife (Regina Hall), and a bottle of hallucinogenic drugs that land Elaine's (Zoe Saldana) new boyfriend (James Marsden) naked on the roof in a psychedelic stupor. And then there's the dreaded eulogy that Aaron has to give even though his more successful younger brother (Martin Lawrence), a money-squandering author, threatens to steal the spotlight.
What's The Deal: Death at a Funeral aims for a blend of comedy and drama -- both elements of life, death, and dysfunctional families -- but is much more successful in its often slapsticky, humorous moments than when it shoehorns in dramatic arcs for a requisite touch of pathos. For their part, the mostly dramatic actors who comprise the supporting cast make for the funniest moments, infusing their ridiculous situations with a real-world believability; we all know someone like Danny Glover's cranky Uncle Russell, or understand the frustration of Zoe Saldana's Elaine, whose hard-to-please father tries to set her up with an old flame despite the fact that she's brought her fiancée to the funeral. The problem is, when it comes to the inevitably heavy discussions of familial responsibility, sibling rivalry, and Aaron's Big Important Eulogy, all of the film's weight falls squarely on the shoulders of Chris Rock and, to a lesser degree, Martin Lawrence -- two funny comic actors/comedians who can't quite nail down the drama. Go for the poop jokes, the impromptu kidnapping and extortion, and to see James Marsden tripping balls, and you'll be just fine.
You'll Know Exactly What To Expect If: You've seen the original film, the 2007 British black comedy of the same name. Screenwriter Dean Craig (who also wrote the original) and producer Chris Rock manage to translate the story for the African-American community well without pandering to their audience like so many other comedies do, while remaining pretty faithful to the events of the first film (the accidental drug use, the sibling rivalry, the gay revelations, and yes, the unfortunate poop joke).
Who Steals The Show: James Marsden. As Zoe Saldana's fiancée, he carries the All-American wholesomeness that we've seen on display in films like X-Men and Enchanted -- but once his character accidentally ingests a powerful dose of homemade psychedelic drugs, he's as adorable and out of control as those "I can haz cheezburgers?" kittens on the internet.
The Unfortunate Image That Will Be Burned Into Your Brain As You Leave The Theater: Poor Tracy Morgan with chunks of fecal matter stuck to his face. Yes, it's that kind of movie. I laughed, and then I wanted to barf. Then I LOLed some more. Who says movies don't move us anymore?
Biggest Surprise of All: That director Neil "I Make Kinda Serious Movies About People Being Horrible to Each Other" LaBute is behind the camera. Sure, he's dabbled in comedy before (Nurse Betty, In the Company of Men) and made an unintentional comedy classic (Nicolas Cage's The Wicker Man), but laughs this broad are new terrain for him. Then again, he's an expert in telling stories about interpersonal dramarama, so maybe it's a perfect fit.