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Overall Rating
2.92

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 Rob Gonsalves

"Wherein a Steve Carell comedy reminds me of Poe. Go figure."
4 stars

"Dinner for Schmucks" begins with a title sequence set to “The Fool on the Hill,” one of my favorite Beatles songs. I was about to cry “Sacrilege!” until the charm of the sequence won me over: a variety of mice we assume to be fake (real, we later learn, and dead) dressed up in little outfits, enacting an outdoor idyll.

The man who collects these dead mice and turns them into art is Barry Speck (Steve Carell), and the Beatles song prompts us to think of Barry as the fool. But we’re presented with a perhaps greater fool: Tim Conrad (Paul Rudd), who’s angling for a corporate promotion and thinks he can get it by inviting Barry to the boss’s monthly, ironically named “Dinner for Winners.” Each employee brings some laughable goofball to the dinner, and the winner is the one whose guest earns the most derision from the assembled elite.

Based on the somewhat more acidic French farce The Dinner Game, this American remake actually shows us the dinner, unlike the original. Director Jay Roach and writers David Guion and Michael Handelman treat the premise as an occasion for a meeting of eccentrics, of which the hapless Barry is possibly the least schmucky. (Tim understands the event to be “a dinner for idiots”; the film’s title is never used to describe the proceedings, suggesting that the dinner’s true schmucks aren’t the invited ones.) This puts us in the awkward position of laughing along with the gathered snobs at people too socially blinkered to realize they’re being exploited, but it also gives comedians like Zach Galifianakis and Octavia Spencer a chance to uncork their weirdness. The evil Jeff Dunham is on hand, too, but I agreed to forget he was there.

Bizarrely, Dinner for Schmucks put me in mind of two classics of short literature; bear with me a minute. The first is Poe’s “Hop-Frog,” in which a deformed court jester exacts ghastly revenge on the callous king and his council. There’s a direct line from Poe to Paul Bowles’ “A Distant Episode,” wherein a professor of linguistics is kidnapped by a desert tribe, has his tongue cut out, and is forced to dance for their amusement. In both, the elite class are violently humbled and made ridiculous by the underlings they’d condescended to. Dinner for Schmucks doesn’t go so far as to dress hateful corporate prez Bruce Greenwood or financier David Walliams as orangutangs or rip their tongues out, but it does arouse in us a similar working-Joe desire to watch the dismantling of this pompously appointed celebration of how much cooler rich people are than schmucks.

I’m not saying Dinner for Schmucks is any sort of Buñuelian spray of venom at the bourgeoisie. Of course not. But there’s a little more going on in it than you might expect from a summer comedy starring Steve Carell and Paul Rudd. (Both of whom are terrific here, Carell in particular working a Carrey-in-Cable Guy variation on his Michael Scott cluelessness.) And the joker in the deck is Kieran Vollard, a brutally pretentious “artist” played with immaculate self-unawareness by Flight of the Conchords’ Jemaine Clement, who seems to be parodying Russell Brand’s usual and by-now-whiskered persona. Vollard is presented as a poseur whose art goes over big with moneyed people terrified to seem unhip, but Clement plays him with a certain grace and generosity, as if he understood that the only difference between Vollard and the schmucks at the dinner is that the richer schmucks give him money.

And the more you think about that, the more the film comes into focus.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=19317&reviewer=416
originally posted: 08/02/10 08:52:28
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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
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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USA
  30-Jul-2010 (PG-13)
  DVD: 04-Jan-2011

UK
  20-Aug-2010 (12A)

Australia
  05-Aug-2010 (M)
  DVD: 04-Jan-2011




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