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Overall Rating

Awesome: 0%
Worth A Look40.54%
Average: 18.92%
Pretty Bad: 32.43%
Total Crap: 8.11%

5 reviews, 7 user ratings

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Dinner for Schmucks
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by Erik Childress

"Who Invited Francis Veber To The Party?"
2 stars

Comedy is supposed to be an international language. Or is that love? No matter cause whenever Francis Veber is involved, something somewhere is going to go horribly wrong. He is the French filmmaker responsible in some manner or another for inspiring or being directly involved with American remakes such as Three Fugitives, Pure Luck, My Father the Hero, The Man With One Red Shoe, the Billy Crystal/Robin Williams disaster, Father's Day, and the Richard Pryor film, The Toy, where a rich white man buys a black man to be his son's plaything. Some could say Veber's brand of farce gets lost in the translation, even though they were handled by such competent directors like Ivan Reitman, Richard Donner and Mike Nichols, whose The Birdcage remains the least scrutinized of the bunch. Veber's 1998 comedy, The Dinner Game, was a huge hit in its native country (second only to Titanic at the time) and is the latest attempt at Hollywood not learning its lesson in getting involved with this guy's work. Despite a promising cast and writers clearly recognizing where the original needed extensive improvement, they can't entirely get away from the Veber curse and it infects the middle hour until its almost impossible to recover.

Paul Rudd stars as Tim, a sixth floor inhabitant of a major investment firm that has designs on grabbing the seventh floor office from a recently released colleague. After impressing the boss (Bruce Greenwood) with an idea to bring in a huge account, he is invited to a top secret dinner he hosts once a month; one where the invitees bring along an "idiot" that they can all mock. Tim admits this is messed up but is desperate to marry his girlfriend, Julie (Stephanie Szostak) and give her everything he thinks she deserves. When she finds out about the dinner, she abruptly walks out on him. Tim was having second thoughts about going through with it until he literally runs into Barry (Steve Carell), an IRS agent and taxidermy hobbyist who creates keepsakes out of dead mice. In other words, a prime candidate to secure that promotion.

Tim invites Barry to the dinner, but he shows up an evening early right in the midst of Tim's relationship troubles and a giant back strain. Through the course of this night, Barry will prove to be an absolute hazard to Tim's life. He wittingly invites Darla (Lucy Punch), a former one-night stand of Tim's, over to help ease the pain despite her being a clingy stalker. They find themselves breaking into the apartment of Kieran (Jemaine Clement), a uber-vain artist with designs on Julie. Finally, in hopes of obtaining the address of Kieran's upstate love nest, they visit Barry's office where we meet his boss, Therman (Zach Galifianakis), an obsessive auditor who also dabbles in mind control. All of this is leading up to the proposed dinner where mockery will be king, hurt feelings second and reconciliation practically an afterthought.

Veber's original film never actually got to the dinner, playing out more like the one-set stage play it was adapted from with an introduction of a few "idiots" at the beginning never to be heard from again. It was about 75-minutes long and pretty much fits right into the middle of this nearly two-hour re-inspiration and winds up feeling like desperate padding. Clear from the get-go that writers David Guion and Michael Handelman are playing fill-in-the-blanks, there is actual hope that Veber's film was merely a springboard for a dark comic farce that indeed excelled where the original so failed. It begins with trying to soften up Tim as a good guy playing a necessary evil card to get ahead in life. As Paul Rudd is one of the most instantly likable actors working today, it is a pretty daunting task to make him come off as a jerk. But once things start going downhill, I'll be damned if the movie doesn't manage to pull it off.

It's a tough juggling act for Rudd, especially when he is given only one ball. The movie is unsure if we're supposed to dislike anyone other than the sycophantic executives and can't commit to Tim as just a natural straight man who has to absorb the wrecking ball that is Barry. Are we supposed to endorse Tim being cut down to size for simply committing to the dinner against his initial moral judgement? Is Barry's moronical anti-social behavior completely forgivable just because he has a cutesy hobby and a revelation of some past heartbreak? This latter element should have served as a real bonding moment. Instead it is too wedged in and too quickly an afterthought to be the kind of bombshell that takes their relationship in another direction. Director Jay Roach, who mined the rules of classic farce very well in Meet the Parents, oversteps many of the film's setups and doesn't know when to pull back when it is not working.

Handing script duties over to Guion and Handelman who completely botched their first attempt at farce in The Ex (about another guy trying to get ahead while working for his wife's scheming former boyfriend in a wheelchair) was not the best start, as they should have thrown Veber's original script in the shredder from the get-go. Roach follows through with it though and doesn't follow the organic rules where situations are established well before they begin to converge. Darla was merely a mistress described as crazy in the original because she had a lot of dogs. Here she's a drunken fling from years earlier and a complete psychotic, introduced out of thin air just so she can wreck Tim's apartment. Given that, a later scene at a restaurant where she reappears manages to work. Same goes for Barry's boss, who on first meeting about an hour in with no prior knowledge, is overplayed to such an extent by Galifianakis that we are still wondering how such a person would rise to such ranks in the IRS even after we discover the meaning of the word "pudding." Again, his reappearance at the dinner tends to work as we can strip him down to being just another of the oddballs in the room. However, none of Jemaine Clement's scenes work as his artist appears completely superfluous to the proceedings and ultimately only exists to make Julie even more overly reactionary and unlikable.

And what is to be ultimately said about us, the audience? Are we not participating in laughing at these lovable losers only to then join in on the shaming of the suits who set it all up for our entertainment? The film can't have it both ways and by delaying Tim and Barry's understanding of one another, we are just as guilty. Especially when we accept that Tim is using Barry's extraordinarily dim mind to convince him of a method to get revenge. To have the same guy just minutes later spell out the lesson for everyone is hypocritical at best and insulting at worst. Schmucks is certainly not without laughs, and occasionally some very big ones. An occasional improv or casual sincerity in the face of the outrageous from Carell do work in scattered clumps and almost all of Barry's mice scenarios are good for at least a smile if not a belly laugh. Chris O'Dowd's blind swordsman also may have the single best throwaway line when asked about his painting skills. Of all the cursed Veber projects over the years, Dinner for Schmucks has to easily rank as the most disappointing of them all. Maybe in another ten years, someone can remount the stage play and invite Veber himself as the guest of honor to compete with the likes of Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck, Jesse James, half the people on YouTube and Pete Hammond. You know, real idiots.

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originally posted: 07/30/10 14:00:00
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User Comments

7/09/11 the dork knight YOUR BRAIN IS MY PUPPET 4 stars
9/17/10 David A. Hilarious film, but any man who picks Julie over Darla truly deserves the idiot award! 4 stars
9/06/10 millersxing Dinner for ding-dongs rings a bell. 4 stars
8/27/10 Justin What a pile of shit. F+ 1 stars
8/14/10 Larry Lame. Not worth the $$ to rent let alone theater tickets. 1 stars
8/11/10 chuck i'm sorry, but unless gonsalves apologizes for giving this movie 4 stars, he lost his soul. 1 stars
8/04/10 Luisa too long, too many delays til the 'dinner' part 3 stars
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  30-Jul-2010 (PG-13)
  DVD: 04-Jan-2011

  20-Aug-2010 (12A)

  05-Aug-2010 (M)
  DVD: 04-Jan-2011

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