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DALE PECK on the Movies

Article excerpt

Death at a Funeral

It's virtually impossible to dis Frank Oz, let alone dislike him. I mean, he's kind of the radical faerie godmother of late-20th-century childhood: Between Sesame Street (he's the voice of Grover and Cookie Monster, among others), the Muppets (Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear), and Star Wars (the one and only Yoda) , he has shepherded virtually every American of the last couple generations from TV toddlerhood to big-screen adolescence, and he's never even had to change out of his pajamas to do it. Such work seems to have earned him an enormous reservoir of goodwill, allowing him to direct a slew of remarkably unfunny movies, despite the efforts of some of the funniest actors of the last four decades: Bill Murray in What About Bob?; Goldie Hawn and Steve Martin in Housesitter; Steve Martin again, along with Eddie Murphy, in Bowfinger, and Robert De Niro in The Score (which, admittedly, wasn't a comedy, or at least wasn't intended to be). Through it all, one gets the sense of a man hanging out and having a ball, a man who has the rare good fortune of being able to take $100 million of studio money - that's $100,000,000, folks - and throw it at the screen to see what happens (in that case, the unwatchable 2004 remake of The Stepford Wives).

Perhaps the brightest spot in this field of crap is a movie that holds a special place in most gay viewers' film canons, In & Out. That film profits enormously from Paul Rudnick's nearly superhuman ability to generate one-liners, along with deft performances by Joan Cusack and Matt Dillon (and, lest we forget, Shalom Harlow, whose baffled response to a rotary phone is a classic celluloid gag). What's not interesting about the film is its treatment of the coming-out narrative, so it should be no surprise that Oz's latest take on homosexuality is equally unilluminating, and remarkable only because it's the gayest mainstream movie of the year. Est is the operative part of that word, since Death ata Funeral isn't really what you'd call gay: One of the film's two gay characters is dead, while the second is a blackmailing dwarf who shows up at the funeral of his sometime lover with, apparently, compromising photographs - though we never see them, we do get the rarefied treat of three fingers' worth of creamy feces. Don't get me wrong. I love a good dwarf gag, not to mention a good shit gag. I laughed at every one of them in every version of Jackass (the most recent incarnation of which, after all, was called Number Two). But not even a dollop of old-man diarrhea can stop this movie from going down the toilet

Since we've descended to bad puns and double entendres, we might as well get them out of the way: Death at a Funeral is moribund. It killed me. I was bored stiff. Dying to get out of the theater. (In the voice of Yoda: Shitty this movie is, and in the crapper it belongs. …