British comedy has a long tradition of being farcical to the point of utter lunacy while still managing to seem hyperliterate. American comedy, by contrast, has a history of being goofy to the point of utter lunacy while rarely seeming literate at all. (Preston Sturges movies are the mighty exception.)
"Death at a Funeral" is a passable example of the British species of comedy. Directed by Frank Oz ("Bowfinger," "In and Out"), it has the requisite amount of knockabout silliness.
The morbid proceedings are, of course, a perfect counterpoint to the hijinks. A divided family gathers for the funeral of their patriarch. Daniel (Matthew MacFadyen) is the most level headed; his famous novelist brother Frank (Rupert Graves), who has grudgingly flown in from New York, is the most conceited. Their cousin Martha (Daisy Donovan) and her strait-laced fiancé Simon (Alan Tudyk), are also in on the grim festivities. And then there's a mysterious interloper (Peter Dinklage) who claims to have been close to the deceased. Very close.
Audience who think poop jokes are the exclusive province of Hollywood summer yockfests will be surprised by "Death at a Funeral." But that's pretty standard music-hall comedy stuff. What distinguishes this film most of all is its intense need to provide a laugh – any kind of a laugh, high or low – at every moment.
The results, as one might imagine, are a bit exhausting. Just about every gag in this movie, which was written by Dean Craig, is funny the first time around – but not so much the second or third or eighth time. Simon, for example, has a running joke where, after accidentally swallowing a designer drug on his way to the funeral, he strips naked in front of his prospective and greatly unamused father-in-law. A little of this goes a long way.
Still, one can have a reasonably fun time at this movie, which has the advantage of not targeting itself exclusively for tween slackers. If you are looking for an exceptional comedy on a similar theme, try to rent Juzo Itami's "The Funeral," which he made two years before his classic noodle comedy "Tampopo." Grade: B
• Rated R for language and drug use.