I saw the original Death at a Funeral when it played at our local theater. I liked it, but I liked this remake even better. While the scenarios are almost identical, the cultural differences between the two families made them feel like completely different films. It was a stroke of genius on the part of director Neil LaBute (In the Company of Men, Lakeview Terrace, and the unfortunate The Wicker Man remake, that was completely unnecessary), to recast Peter Dinklage as the uninvited guest with a secret.
The original worked due to a delicate blend of deadpan delivery and madcap farce - deadpan and madcap being the dominant modes of British comedy - but with the emphasis on deadpan. Here the emphasis is on madcap, especially in the performance of Tracy Morgan, but it still manages to feel like a plausible depiction of a real-to-life family, and never quite goes to ridiculous. In both, the humor comes mostly from a tension between the expectations of dignity and decorum at a funeral and the increasingly undignified activities of its participants: drug-crazed hallucinations, sibling rivalry, sex-craziness and jealousy, secretive revelations, blackmail, and possibly even murder. Here, though, I just thought it was simply more funny. While I grinned watching the first one, I laughed out loud with this version. Danny Glover was delightful as a mad-as-hell uncle; Chris Rock played the straight man, the put-upon and under appreciated son of the deceased; Martin Lawrence played perfectly the cocky and successful writer come home; Tracy Morgan plays the pratfall guy and takes some hilarious crap in this film; and Zoe Saldana as the niece of the deceased and James Marsden as her tripped-out fiance round out the mix. It's a terrific ensemble cast, and Neil LaBute times it all perfectly, managing to make perfectly clear what's going on when and where in what might have been a much more chaotic mixture with a less competent director at the helm. Good stuff.