The comic possibilities of a character mistakenly ingesting a tab of acid and then acting predictably loony at the most inopportune moment are surely limitless, or at least it must have seemed so to the makers of Death of a Funeral. A remake of Frank Oz’s 2007 farce and an apparent work-for-hire for director Neil LaBute, the film attempts to get enormous comic mileage from the single gag of a straight-laced kid tripping balls in the middle of his fianceé’s uncle’s funeral after popping what he had believed to be nothing stronger than valium. Screenwriter Dean Craig, who also penned the original, has so much fun having his man do kooky things like stripping naked and climbing out onto the roof of the house that he repeats the paper-thin gag with two other characters.
The LSD bit isn’t the film’s only comic angle, just the most prevalent. Starring Chris Rock as a relative straight man, Death at a Funeral assembles an extended family’s worth of resentments and petty squabbles under one roof as the central clan comes together to bury the deceased. But what starts out as a more or less straightforward and mostly unfunny collection of comic characters (Danny Glover as an old grump), situations (the continuing antics of the acid-riddled young man), and gross-out gags (Tracy Morgan suffers the indignity of getting shit smeared on his hand, his face, and even the inside of his mouth), takes a decidedly sour turn when Frank (Peter Dinklage), a scurrilous little person, shows up claiming to be the gay lover of the deceased and, brandishing graphic pictures as evidence, demands $30,000 in hush money.
Not only does the film portray this gay character as a decidedly unpleasant opportunist, it proceeds by taking the audience’s homophobia as a given and then uses that bias as the springboard for a round of alleged comedy. As Martin Lawrence wrestles the man to the ground, binds him, and makes him pop five tabs of acid (assuming once again that it’s valium), it’s all in good fun because the filmmakers assume the audience shares their distaste for homosexuals—a distaste here made more palpable by making the gay character physically less than a full-sized man. So that when it seems that Lawrence, Rock, and company accidentally kill the blackmailer, we’re invited to join in the revels, because, even though the victim ends up being very much alive and even though Rock caps the film with a speech advocating tolerance, the fact remains that Frank is not only queer, but a midget too, and according to Death at a Funeral’s clueless creative team, the only thing funnier than that combination is a dimwitted dude on an acid trip.