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Overall Rating

Awesome: 0%
Worth A Look40.54%
Just Average: 18.92%
Pretty Crappy: 32.43%
Sucks: 8.11%

5 reviews, 7 user ratings

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Dinner for Schmucks
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by Peter Sobczynski

"Check, Please!"
2 stars

“Dinner for Schmucks” is a strained and fairly unfunny farce that takes what would seem to be an absolutely foolproof comedic premise and then proceeds to do absolutely nothing with it. For those of you with longer memories and a predilection for foreign films, this news will not come as much of a surprise because it is based on “The Dinner Game,” a 1998 French film that itself was a strained and fairly unfunny farce that took what seemed to be an absolutely foolproof comedic premise and then proceeded to do absolutely nothing with it. What may surprise those viewers is the fact that not only does the Americanized version make many of the same mistakes as its Gallic predecessor, it actually manages to muck up some of the things that it actually got right the first time around. You know how there are some movies that don’t quite work in the theater as a whole but which have enough going for them so that you might stop and watch it on cable for a few minutes if you stumbled upon it while channel-hopping? This is the kind of movie that seems to be destined to be one of those that gets immediately hopped over in the search for something more interesting.

Paul Rudd stars as Tim, an ambitious mid-level employee at a financial firm who yearns to get ahead in the corporate world, mostly to convince his girlfriend, Julie (Stephanie Szostak) that he is successful and responsible enough so that she will finally agree to marry him. One day, a bold move at work catches the eye of his boss (Bruce Greenwood) and it seems as though Tim may get the promotion that will finally make his wildest dreams come true. The only hitch is that one of the requirements is that he attend a special dinner party that the boss holds for his top executives once a month that has a unique twist to it--each invitee is required to find the biggest idiot that they can find in order to serve as the unwitting entertainment with a prize going to the most foolish of the pack. Being a generally decent sort, Tim is inwardly appalled by such an idea and when Julie is horrified to discover that he has even contemplated doing such a thing, he begins trying to figure out a way of getting out of the dinner without losing his shot at success when fortune smiles on him by literally dropping a sure-fire winner into the path of his car. This would be Barry (Steve Carell), an ultra-gauche IRS agent who spends his spare time creating elaborate dioramas centered around dead mice. Despite his misgivings about the whole thing, Tim realizes that Barry is so dorky and clueless that he is a sure-fire winner and so he invites him to the dinner and Barry gratefully accepts.

Tim quickly learns that no cruel and heartless deed goes unpunished when Barry shows up at the door of his swank apartment to go to the dinner a day ahead of time and within a few minutes causes Tim to throw his back out, destroys huge chunks of the apartment. invites a psychotic long-ago one-night stand/stalker (Lucy Punch) over in the mistaken belief that she is Julie, sends away Julie in the mistaken belief that she is the crazy stalker and convinces Tim that she is running into the arms of Kieran (Jermaine Clement), a egocentric artist whose work she is representing. At this point, Tim wants nothing more than to just be left alone but since Barry feels that he is at least slightly responsible for some of the troubles that have befallen his new best friend, he decides to stick around to make things right and inevitably inspires even bigger personal and professional disasters to befall Tim. And yet, as time goes on, Tim slowly begins to realize that Barry is really a decent guy underneath his clumsiness and complete lack of social graces and eventually decides that he won’t subject him to the humiliation of the dinner after all. Not wanting to let his friend down, Barry shows up anyway and wackiness and poignancy are on the menu as he goes up against the wackos brought by Tim’s co-worker’s--including Barry’s boss (Zach Galifianakis), a supreme goofball who claims to have the power to control minds and uses it to regularly browbeat Barry--while Tim works up the nerve to tell off his colleagues once and for all.

“Dinner for Schmucks” has an interesting premise but it is one that needs to be handled in a very specific way if it is to have even the slightest chance of succeeding. In a nutshell, Tim has to be a completely hateful, insensitive jerk who thinks that the dinner game is a hilarious idea and Barry has to be the kind of deluded goofball who is constantly off in his own private world and completely implacable in the face of his complete lack of commonly held social graces. In other words, Tim needs to be like a character out of a Neil LaBute screenplay and Barry needs to be like Borat. (In fact, Sacha Baron Cohen was slated to play the role for a long time before eventually leaving the project.) And yet, in adapting Francis Veber’s original screenplay, a decision was apparently made that American audiences wouldn’t accept characters as extreme as those in the earlier version because they wouldn’t be likable or sympathetic enough because this time around, Tim is a decent enough guy who is wildly uncomfortable with the whole idea of the game and only goes along with it because he thinks that the resulting promotion will convince his girlfriend to finally marry him (the movie is so at pains to make him seem likable that even the one-night stand with the stalker took place long before meeting his current girlfriend) and Barry is a well-meaning goof who just wants to be helpful and who does have a sensitive side that comes out from time to time. By framing the characters in this particular way, the film basically shoots itself in the foot right at the start and never manages to recover because we never believe for a minute that Tim would take part in such a contest, that his girlfriend would leave him if he didn’t get a promotion or that Barry cannot recognize how awkward and clueless his behavior really is. As a result, instead of watching a supercilious jerk slowly lose all the perks and privileges of his cushy existence at the hands of one of his supposed social inferiors, we are instead treated to the spectacle of a reasonably decent guy whose slight weakness of character causes him to suffer mightily at the hands of someone who comes across as so clueless and cartoonish that it seems impossible to believe that he managed to survive as long as he has. This problem is compounded by the fact that Rudd and Carell are simply too likable as performers to be believable in the roles--again, if the film is too work, Tim has to really hate Barry and Barry has to be too blinkered to register that fact and the two actors, who have worked together several times in the past, just seem too at ease with each other to make the conflict convincing. (In a perfect world, Tim and Barry would have been played by Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis just before their breakup when not even the happy-go-lucky plotting of something like “Hollywood Or Bust” could fully conceal their mutual loathing.)

This is not to suggest that “Dinner for Schmucks” is trampling on the memory of a beloved comedy classic--like virtually everything Veber has done in his career (his French films have inspired a slew of American films such as “The Birdcage,” “Buddy Buddy,” “The Toy” and “The Man with One Red Shoe” to name a few), “The Dinner Game” is not a very good movie by any stretch of the imagination. However, he did know how to create the illusion of a classic screen farce even if he couldn’t quite work up the energy to make one that is funny--the premise was elegantly conceived and devoid of unnecessary tangents that might slow things down (the film never even got to the dinner party, for example), the visual style was equally clean and efficient and, most importantly, it maintained the relentless pace needed for this type of comedic filmmaking by confining most of the action to a single location, maintaining the comedic focus on the two leads and keeping the whole thing to a fairly brisk 80 minutes. Alas, director Jay Roach, the auteur behind the “Austin Powers” and “Meet the Parents” franchises, has chosen to eschew that approach for the looser and more off-the-cuff manner of a Judd Apatow joint and with this decision, he winds up shooting his film in the other foot before it has a chance to begin. There are few things in the world of film more painful to endure than the sight of a frantic farce being played at the wrong speed and “Dinner for Schmucks” pretty much proves that by letting virtually every scene run on for far too long, repeatedly veering off on tangents that have little to do with the main thrust of the story (including two separates trips to the weirdo artist to look for Julie) and adding nearly a half-hour to the running time including a brand-new third act centered around the chaotic party. (To be fair, this final sequence starts off strongly before eventually wearing out its welcome and devolving into a series of achingly sincere moments where the characters talk about how nice and special and unique the other characters are--after all, I am certain that moments of aching sincerity are exactly what people are looking for when they plop down their money to see a film called “Dinner for Schmucks.” ) Roach further dilutes by bringing in a bunch of broadly comedic supporting turns from Clement, Punch and Galifianakis that are unfunny at best, downright grotesque at worst and inspire suspicion that he had so little confidence in the original material that he felt the need to shoehorn in comedy relief in what is, after all, supposed to be a comedy. (As Carell’s wacko boss, Galifianakis is so relentlessly annoying that until someone can persuade me otherwise, I shall regard the phrase “Zach Galifianakis is a comic genius” in much the same way that I regard the phrase “Rob Zombie is an auteur.”

“Dinner for Schmucks” isn’t a complete comedic dead zone--there are a few nifty zingers of dialogue that float in from out of nowhere, Carell and Rudd make for a good comedic team even though both are misused here and the dead mouse dioramas inspire some big laughs. (That said, it should come as a warning sign for any comedy when the biggest laughs come courtesy of the prop department.) However, like Barry himself, the film is so desperate in its eagerness to please that it winds up destroying itself in the process after a while. However, considering the relative lack of any comedies at the multiplex this summer and the enormous goodwill that Carell and Rudd have with audiences, it is likely that it will wind up finding favor with audiences who are at this point ready and eager to laugh at anything. Who knows, if it is a big enough success, maybe it will inspire yet another remake and perhaps they will finally get it right that time.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=19317&reviewer=389
originally posted: 07/30/10 00:01:35
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User Comments

7/08/11 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
8/26/10 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
8/10/10 chuck i'm sorry, but unless gonsalves apologizes for giving this movie 4 stars, he lost his soul. 1 stars
8/03/10 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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