DINNER FOR SCHMUCKS
Tim (Paul Rudd), an up-and-coming finance executive has just received his first invitation to the 'dinner for schmucks', a monthly event hosted by his boss (Bruce Greenwood) that promises bragging rights (and maybe more) to the exec that shows up with a guest who proves to be the biggest buffoon. Tim's fiancée, Julie (Stephanie Szostak), finds it distasteful and Tim agrees to skip the dinner, until he bumps into Barry (Steve Carell) - an IRS employee who devotes his spare time to building elaborate taxidermy mouse dioramas - and quickly realizes he's struck schmuck gold. Tim invites Barry, whose blundering good intentions soon sends Tim's life into a downward spiral, threatening a major business deal, bringing crazy stalker ex-girlfriend, Darla (Lucy Punch), back into Tim's life and driving Julie seemingly into the arms of the avant garde artist with whom she works, Kieran (Jemaine Clement).
Review by Louise Keller:
It must be the worst remake ever; this comic misadventure that unfolds like a never-ending series of dastardly mistakes. There's a Swiss millionaire who likes lamps made of bombs, a sex-crazed artist with an octopus in his mouth, a woman who talks to dead animals (including the lobster on her plate), a penis called Sammy and a taxidermist who imagines his stuffed dead mice in bizarre scenarios. The worst part about it is that none of it is funny. Let's hope Francis Veber made a fortune for selling his biting, black comedy The Dinner Game (Le Diner de Cons) to Hollywood. When Steve Carell's idiotic Barry declares 'This is so painful' as he loses control of his mind in the Tax inspector's office, I could honestly feel his pain.
The initial set up is the only part of the film that offers an inkling of reality. We can understand Paul Rudd's ambitious finance executive Tim, eager to impress his gorgeous girlfriend Julie (Stephanie Szostak, lovely) and get a promotion that will take him from 'the stench of cabbage' on the 6th floor and join the elite on the 7th. 'Seriously messed up' is the task at hand - to find a fool to bring as a dinner guest to his 'collector of people' boss (Bruce Greenwood, excellent). The next thing you know, Tim runs his silver Porsche into mouse-chasing Barry and a totally unbelievable relationship begins. That is essentially the trouble with the entire film - none of the relationships have any credence.
Rudd plays the straight man and does as well as the script allows, while Carell is swallowed up by his false teeth and nerdy hair. Lucy Punch's bunny boiler Darla might have been a funny creation but director Jay Roach treads so heavily into stupidity and overkill that she is an embarrassment. The same goes for Jemaine Clement's animal-crazed arty sex addict and Zach Galifianakis's dumb-ass, mind-controlling tax inspector. Just when you think things couldn't get any worse, it's time for the dinner itself, which plays like a contrived, chaotic, bawdy music hall unable to assess its audience. Unworthy of anyone involved in the project, this is a film that is best ignored and forgotten.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Ridiculing fools as a dinner game and corporate pastime does not sound a particularly American thing to do, which is one reason why taking inspiration from a dark French comedy with that theme should have been aborted at the pitch stage. It is the sort of concept the French do so well, as Francis Veber showed with The Dinner Game (1998), which had something to say. Cherry picking a couple of Veber's ideas and plonking them into an absurd, broad Hollywood farce is clearly not meant to appeal to The Dinner Game's fans. But the filmmakers thought there was enough business there for Steve Carell to run amok as a soft hearted nerd who makes dioramas with dead mice.
The cruelty of the original idea (and therefore its primer) is blunted by the reluctance to make the hero guilty, so Paul Rudd's Tim is made into a weakling who manages to fail at being mean and also at being nice. This simply deflates the redemptive elements of the original screenplay, so what is left blancmange. The humour is spasmodic, but for a new target audience of 18 - 34 year olds (not the same cr owd that loved the original) the film may offer a simplistic escape and some oddball ideas.
Carell is also very effective at inventing and delivering surreal dialogue and his comic instincts are acute, but he seems to prefer to limit himself to broad, unchallenging comedies. The marvellous Lucy Punch (so memorable in Being Julia [d: Istvan Szabo, 2004]) delivers a suitably theatrical stalker, while characters like the wealthy Swiss investor and his bejewelled wife (David Walliams & Lucy Davenport) are painfully fake, but as the poster of the movie demonstrates, the film is an overstated, bloated comedy in which very little is real.
The most real of them all is the lovely Stephanie Szostak as Julie, Tim's artistic girlfriend, who oozes credibility and has a real screen presence. The other is Bruce Greenwood as Tim's boss at the finance firm, who hosts the dinners. In the original, there never is a dinner scene - another major point of difference. Kristen Schaal has terrific comedic sense as Tim's wise and pushy secretary.
The highlights are few and the doldrums are many in this overlong attempt at lighthearted farce, with a soggy and sentimental resolution that turns Dinner for Schmucks into a meal of schmaltz.
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DINNER FOR SCHMUCKS (M)
CAST: Steve Carell, Paul Rudd, Lucy Punch, Zach Galifianakis, Jemaine Clement, Stephanie Szostak, Bruce Greenwood, David Walliams, Ron Livingston
PRODUCER: Jay Roach, Laurie MacDonald, Walter F. Parkes
DIRECTOR: Jay Roach
SCRIPT: David Guion & Michael Handelman (Le Diner de Cons by Francis Veber, 1998)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Jim Denault
EDITOR: Alan Baumgarten, Jon Poll
MUSIC: Theodore Shapiro
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Michael Corenblith
RUNNING TIME: 113 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Paramount
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: September 30, 2010