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Heroes of the Zeroes: Death at a Funeral (2007)

by on March 21, 2010
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Heroes of the Zeroes is Nick Rogers’ daily, alphabetical look back at the 365 best films of 2000-2009.

“Death at a Funeral”
Rated R

Behind the camera for high-concept star vehicles (“Bowfinger,” “The Score,” “Housesitter,” “The Stepford Wives”), Frank Oz seems as stiff and uncomfortable as when he handled one prophylactic … soiled … in “The Blues Brothers.”

But when turned loose on accessible, not-altogether-insincere dark-comedy scenarios — “What About Bob?,” “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels,” “In & Out” — Oz understands humor at a molecular level of structure, volume and timing.

Oz splendidly mastered the droll, devilish “Death at a Funeral” — the 2007 version with a smattering of predominantly British people you might recognize, mind you, not the ominously looming remake written by the same person.

Breaking a somber setup with a well-placed profanity, writer Dean Craig piled up sibling envy, threatened blackmail, accidental drug ingestion and angrily infirm octogenarian uncles as obstacles for a family burying its patriarch.

A surplus of whispered dialogue juices the mounting mania of stiff-lipped, sally-forth Brits contending with such murkiness. Oz’s asset is an unassailable army of straight men (and women) and loons, but two are unfailingly reliable ringers.

Andy Nyman’s cousin Howard finds himself with literal shit and figurative blood on his hands. And the chemically charged slapstick of Simon (Alan Tudyk, aka “Dodgeball’s” Steve the Pirate) allows him to carry an expression of simultaneous horror, reverie and barely stifled giggles.

Without negating its nastiness, “Death” sweetly understood the importance of sending someone off with dignity even as their progeny tends to inadvertently toss it out the window. An impossible last-shot stinger aside, “Death” was farce at its most flawless.