Death be not proud in Death At A Funeral, Titans clash in fantasy campfest

by Mark Burger

Occasionally funny but rarely on a consistent basis, Death at a Funeral boasts a (proven) high concept and a high-powered all-star cast but tends to pale in the shadow of the original film, directed by Frank Oz.

The new film, directed by Neil LaBute, is both an “Americanized” remake and an African-Americanized remake, being that the principal family, which was British in the first film, is predominantly black in this one.

The passing of a family patriarch is the catalyst that brings his friends and relatives together. The all-star cast includes Chris Rock, Martin Lawrence, Tracy Morgan, Danny Glover, Zoe Saldana, Luke Wilson, James Marsters, Keith David, Regina Hall, Ron Glass, Loretta Divine (as the widow) and Peter Dinklage, who plays the same role here that he did in the first Death at a Funeral. One rarely gets a sense of who these people are, much less the collective history of their relationships to one another.

There are some amusing moments and an occasional sweet one, but too often the film feels rushed rather than fast-paced, and there’s not much that LaBute brings to the material. Many of the players are proven commodities, but not many of them distinguish themselves beyond the confines of the screenplay. Although Lawrence is more relaxed and likable than he’s been in other roles, there isn’t all that much for him to do, and Rock (ostensibly the film’s star) spends much of his onscreen time reacting to the antics of those around him, sometimes all but disappearing into the background.

Comparisons to the earlier film are bit more inevitable than they might be here, as Death at the Funeral is only three years old and had a decent-sized release in the US. The original film had its moments but was no means a classic. The new film, which credits original screenwriter Dean Craig, follows the storyline closely and rehashes many of the same jokes, although it does incorporate more profanity (much of it unnecessary) into the proceedings.

Despite a fervent fanbase, the original Clash of the Titans (1981) was not a terribly good film, despite Ray Harryhausen’s stop-motion effects (his last credit to date). The new Clash of the Titans, which eschews old-school stop-motion for stage-of-the-art CGI effects, isn’t terribly good, either — but it’s frequently funnier (not always intentionally) than its predecessor.

Taking a page from Greek mythology, the film is directed in bombastic fashion by Louis Leterrier, whose earlier films (including Unleashed and The Incredible Hulk) share that same trait.

Sam Worthington plays the heroic Perseus, and he’s better suited to the role than Harry Hamlin was back in ’81. Observes a companion: “He may be a demigod but he’s still mortal,” one of the more ripe lines of dialogue in the screenplay. (One of the credited screenwriters is Travis Beacham, a graduate of the UNC School of the Arts.)

Worthington plays it straight, and this big-budget hokum has also attracted the likes of Pete Postlethwaite, the ever-lovely Elizabeth McGovern, Alexa Davalos, Liam Cunningham, Izabella Miko, Danny Huston, Polly Walker, Jane March, Gemma Arterton, Jason Flemyng, Mads Mikkelsen and others, although some of them barely get a word (or a scene) in, edgewise.

Commuting back and forth between Mt. Olympus, Earth and the Underworld are Liam Neeson as Zeus, who sometimes appears as if he’s wearing an outfit from the last ABBA tour, and Ralph Fiennes, who’s constantly materializing or vanishing in a cloud of CGI sulfur, as Hades. The two actors bring an admittedly hammy relish to their cartoonish roles, delivering (or, in Fiennes’ case, wheezing) each line of dialogue with mock gravitas.

The 3-D effects, which were grafted onto the film after principal photography, aren’t so hot, but the CGI monsters are sometimes impressive. Whether it’s giant scorpions, swooping gargoyles of the dreaded Kraken, there’s no question how so many of those Greek ruins got that way.