The marketing strategy for Death at a Funeral was pretty transparent: Gather together a bunch of Brits, test their sense of propriety through a handful of slapstick set pieces, and throw the word Funeral in the title, ideally calling to mind a certain breakout British hit starring Hugh Grant. But without the weddings to offset this trip to the funeral parlor, it's all just a bunch of broad gallows humor that's depressing and mean-spirited. The failure in tone may have something to do with the fact that American Frank Oz is at the helm; one senses that a Brit might have pulled back on the reins a bit. (Though Oz did live in England until he was five.) Instead, Death at a Funeral charges over the top, so eager to get its jokes flying that it spends precious little time establishing the characters and the obstacles that might make us care about them. In this busy ensemble, the audience knows which character is serving which plot function primarily because each is an obvious retread of a character from another, better film. Typical of this film's unoriginality is the subplot featuring Alan Tudyk (an American doing a British accent). If there's anything more overdone than the accidental ingestion of a psychedelic drug, it's the tendency of the character to react to it by shedding all clothes and climbing on the roof. The central bit of "outrageousness" is a tad less recycled, if only because it involves the Jerry Springer-ready character of a homosexual dwarf bent on blackmail (Peter Dinklage). As might be expected, this is also the greatest source of the aforementioned mean-spiritedness. Back in the day of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Frank Oz knew how to make total bastards hilarious. Now, he's making characters who should be sympathetic into total bastards.
by Derek Armstrong review