From DEATH TAKES A HOLIDAY and THE LOVED ONE to the recent DEATH OF MR. LAZARESCU, the grim reaper has been the star of a surprising number of very dark and often very funny movies. But a comedy about death is a difficult thing to pull off: The very premise comes with a built-in challenge to filmmakers to demonstrate exactly what's so funny about the saddest thing most of us will ever experience. Despite a game British cast, this tedious effort from American director Frank Oz has a hard time making its case.
One would think that a funeral that begins with the delivery of the wrong corpse to the suburban London home where services are planned for that very morning couldn't get much worse, but in this case one would be mistaken. Not only must Daniel (Matthew Macfadyen) ensure that the body of his late father actually arrives in time for its own funeral, he must also contend with his wife, Jane (Keeley Hawes), who keeps nagging him to make the down payment on a London flat so they can move far away from Daniel's recently widowed mother (Jane Asher) the minute the funeral is over. Daniel must also oversee the gathering of his late father's friends and family members, many of whom seem to have lost their minds. Straitlaced Simon (Alan Tudyk), the fiance of Daniel's cousin Martha (Daisy Donovan) has accidentally ingested a designer hallucinogen that Martha's druggie brother, Troy (Kris Marshall), has stupidly hidden in a Valium bottle; Simon arrives for the services convinced that the body in the coffin is still alive and that Simon would feel a lot better naked. Daniel's hypochondriac friend Howard (Andy Nyman) is worried that the discoloration on his wrist means he's dying; Troy's friend Justin (Ewen Bremner) keeps hitting on Martha; and just who is that diminutive stranger (Peter Dinklage) in the leather jacket, and what family secret do those Polaroids he's eager to show Daniel reveal? Despite the mounting insanity, Daniel most dreads the arrival of his decadent brother, Robert (Rupert Graves), a successful writer who took off to live the high life in New York City and left Daniel to care for their ailing father. Daniel still dreams of one day publishing his own novel, but Robert never passes up an opportunity to make Daniel feel like the no-talent loser he fears he might very well be.
Before the day is over, the corpse will fall out of its coffin, an old man will have diarrhea, and naked Simon will wind up on the roof. Surprised? You shouldn't be. Oz and screenwriter Dean Craig haul out every farcical situation imaginable in an effort to turn what should be life's most solemn occasion into sheer anarchy. But while trying so hard to have such a good time, the movie simply forgets to be funny, and begins to grate before the body even cools. leave a comment --Ken Fox