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Chris Rock and Martin Lawrence Finds Laughs at a Funeral

Thursday, April 15th, 2010

Death at A Funeral
Chris Rock and Martin Lawrence star in Deat at a Funeral

Three years ago, a darkly funny British comedy called Death At A Funeral crept into Los Angeles. It went virtually unnoticed – but not by comic Chris Rock.

Intrigued by the title, he went to see this bizarre frolic about the death of a family patriarch and the chaos that ensues on the day of his funeral.

“I saw it at an art house,” Rock remembers. “I saw it at a little theatre with, like, 10 people. To me, I said: ‘This is like a pop movie. Why is it playing at a little art house?’ Me and the other 10 people were laughing our asses off. It was amazing.”

That day, the seed was planted for transporting this gruesomely funny English comedy of manners to Pasadena, Calif., and for hiring an A-list black cast (Chris Rock, Martin Lawrence, Tracy Morgan, Danny Glover, Zoe Saldana) as well as such leading white actors as Luke Wilson, James Marsden and the diminutive Peter Dinklage to rework the property for North American audiences.

This must be one of the quickest remakes in history. A movie released in 2007 gets a new version only three years later. But Rock, who is a producer and an uncredited scriptwriter on the film opening Friday, saw no need to wait. Neither did Clinton Culpepper, the canny boss of Screen Gems, the Sony division with a track record for scoring big box-office returns out of low-budget projects.

“I just thought the jokes would work in America,” Rock told a news conference Sunday. He also saw the potential for a great ensemble piece. “We’re not doing a lot of one-guy comedy right now. A lot of things are collaborations . . . Date Night . . . The Hangover. So I thought the fact that it had a lot of funny parts was perfect for me, knowing I wouldn’t have to carry the whole movie, and also perfect as something the studio would really be into. So I thought it would work that way.”

Britain’s Dean Craig, who wrote the screenplay for the original film, retains the formal writer’s credits on the new one, although Rock and Aleysha Carr (Everybody Hates Chris) adapted his script. In giving his blessing to the remake, Screen Gems’ Culpepper insisted that one line of dialogue be pivotal.

It’s the one that Rock, in the role of the deceased’s beleaguered son, delivers to Martin Lawrence, who plays his brother, an acclaimed and somewhat pompous novelist obsessed with his racial heritage. The speech goes this way: “Let me get this straight: Our father was romantically involved with a guy that could fit in his pocket, and you’re mad that he was white?”

Both Culpepper and Rock say this hilarious line defines the cheeky essence of Death At A Funeral, a comedy that revels in busting taboos. It seems the deceased parent, a pillar of Pasadena’s black community, had a secret life – a gay relationship with a white dwarf (Peter Dinklage, re-enacting the same role he played in the British version) who has shown up for the funeral demanding his share of the inheritance.

The very memory of this speech starts Rock laughing again as he chats with reporters. But he’s right – the line provides as good an explanation as any for the fact that the Motion Picture Association of America has slammed an R rating on it in the United States.

Making fun of death and mourning and embalmed corpses tumbling out of caskets is only the beginning when it comes to spoofing the ritual of the funeral, and baring emotional travails run rampant. The MPAA censors also had to pass judgment on the scenes where James Martin, a future white in-law, gets high on a hallucinogenic drug and spends most of the movie naked. Or a scatological sequence in which Tracy Morgan finds himself in the firing line of Danny Glover’s bowel movements.

But Rock turns out to be unhappy with that Restricted rating. Would you believe that he sees Death At A Funeral as family entertainment?

“I think we’ve made an American family comedy – despite the R (rating), a movie you can see with your whole family. It’s a movie for absolutely everybody; that’s what I think. It’s got a big great cast – black, white. All the black people that aren’t in a Tyler Perry movie right now, are in this movie. If you like it, please spread the word.”

Rock clearly doesn’t want Death At A Funeral to be ghettoized and perceived as a film for black audiences. He points to its white cast members and to the fact that the film takes interracial relationships for granted, and to the hiring of a white director in Neil LaBute, a controversial filmmaker whose early successes (In the Company of Men, Your Friends & Neighbors) triggered attacks from feminist groups.

In fact, he doesn’t much like being tagged as a black comedian these days.

“Is there ‘black’ comedy?” he asks. “There’s comedy that ‘black’ people do – and, to me, it’s all just comedy, to tell you the truth. There’s Richard (Pryor)and Eddie (Murphy)and (Bill)Cosby . . . I consider myself in the same line, but I’m also the descendant of George Carlin and Rodney Dangerfield and all those guys. So I just mix it up. When I was a kid, we didn’t think that Rodney Dangerfield was a funny white guy. We just thought he was a funny guy.”

But there’s also pride in the impact of black comedians on a wider culture – an impact not always fully acknowledged. He cites himself and co-stars Martin Lawrence and Tracy Morgan.

“Me, Martin and Tracy – can you name three white comedians that more white people would come and see? If I said no black people could come and see me next week in L.A., I would still sell more tickets. So I just consider myself a comedian. . . . You know what I mean? I’ve seen Martin Lawrence play for thousands and thousands of white people.”

These days, Rock’s own world embraces far more than standup. Last year, Good Hair, his fascinating documentary about the African-American hair industry won the Special Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival. His first book, Rock This, made the New York Times bestseller list. And currently, he’s involved in another remake – this time, rewriting Kurosawa’s Japanese classic, High And Low, for director Mike Nichols.

He has submerged himself in every aspect of the filmmaking process, and has reached some firm conclusions about both the hazards and rewards of doing remakes.

“When you know that a movie’s ending works, your life’s so much easier. . . . I’ve remade a few movies, and they all have one thing in common: great endings. . . . If you haven’t a great ending, don’t remake the movie.”

Still, speaking of funerals, how would Rock like his own to play out?

“I’d want all the living presidents there. I’d want them all to be in shorts, too . . . with the Stanley Cup somewhere around . . . . Jay-Z to rap the eulogy.”

© Copyright (c) Canwest News Service


Death at A Funeral

Monday, January 11th, 2010

Death at A Funeral DS 1 Sheet Movie Poster - Style A

Release date: Friday April 16, 2010
Genre: Comedy
Director: Neil LaBute
Studio: Columbia Pictures, Screengems (Sony)
Screenplay: Dean Craig
Producer(s): William Horberg, Laurence Malkin, Chris Rock, Sidney Kimmel, Share Stallings
Cast: Loretta Devine, Peter Dinklage, Danny Glover, Regina Hall, Martin Lawrence, James Marsden, Tracy Morgan, Chris Rock, Zoe Saldana, Columbus Short, Luke Wilson
Official Site: sonypictures.com
Rating: Not yet rated
Available film art: Death at A Funeral movie posters

Synopsis
A re-imagining of “Death at a Funeral,” the 2007 MGM comedy directed by Frank Oz. The plan is to make an ensemble comedy about a funeral ceremony that leads to the digging up of shocking family secrets, as well as misplaced cadavers and indecent exposure. While the original was set in Britain, the new film will take place in an urban American setting.


Good Hair

Friday, October 2nd, 2009

Good Hair DS 1 Sheet Movie Poster - Style A

Release date: Friday October 16, 2009
Genre: Documentary/Comedy
Running time: 95 min.
Director: Jeff Stilson
Studio: Kinosmith, Roadside Attractions
Producer(s): Jeff Stilson, Kevin O’Donnell, Jenny Hunter
Screenplay: Lance Crouther, Chris Rock, Chuck Sklar, Jeff Stilson
Official Site: goodhairmovie.net
Rating: PG-13 for some language including sex and drug references, and brief partial nudity
Available film art: Good Hair movie posters

Synopsis
An exposé of comic proportions that only Chris Rock could pull off, “Good Hair” visits beauty salons and hairstyling battles, scientific laboratories and Indian temples to explore the way hairstyles impact the activities, pocketbooks, sexual relationships, and self-esteem of the black community. Director Jeff Stilson follows Chris Rock on this raucous adventure prompted by Rock’s 5-year old daughter approaching him, asking, “Daddy, how come I don’t have good hair?” Celebrities such as Ice-T, Nia Long, Paul Mooney, Raven Symoné, Maya Angelou, Salt n Pepa, Eve and Reverend Al Sharpton all candidly offer their stories and observations to Rock while he struggles with the task of figuring out how to respond to his daughter’s question.


 
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