SPECIAL FEATURE: Cinema Review: Dinner For Schmucks

Film: Dinner For Schmucks
Release date: 3rd September 2010
Certificate: 12A
Running time: 114 mins
Director: Jay Roach
Starring: Steve Carell, Paul Rudd, Zach Galifianakis, Jemaine Clement, Stephanie Szostak
Genre: Comedy
Studio: Paramount
Format: Cinema
Country: USA

This is an English-language release.

Le Dîner De Cons: intelligent, raucous and thought provoking - words you don’t tend to associate with the majority of Hollywood’s output. But they do insist on highlighting their failings.

Everything is going well for Tim. He has an easy, well paid job, a stunning girlfriend, and a flash apartment - but he wants more. He desires promotion to the next level of the firm he works for, a chance to gain more income, and impress his girlfriend who has thus far refused to bow to his relentless marriage proposals – he also becomes increasingly insecure she will find herself in the bed of the charismatic artist she’s working with.

Despite impressing at a board meeting, Tim must attend his boss’ annual dinner to ensure his promotion goes through – the catch: each attendee must bring a fool, who will provide the boss and his guests (including an orange David Walliams as Swiss royalty set to invest millions into their company) with entertainment.

Despite the protests of his girlfriend, Tim sees an opportunity too good to pass up when he mows down the slow minded Barry whilst distracted on his cell phone. Barry shows excitement that he’s been hit by a Porsche, and even offers to payoff Tim, despite being the victim – he’s the perfect candidate.

However, Tim will soon regret extending his dinner invite to Barry, as his presence soon sends his life into chaos…

It’s hardly going to be a surprise to read a website purveying in foreign-language filmmaking slate an American remake of one of France’s golden comedic achievements, Le Dîner De Cons. But we never wanted much. We always knew this was going to be a dumbed down version, but with the likes of Steve Carell, Paul Rudd and director Jay Roach at the helm, who have been involved in many of America’s more palatable releases in recent years, we would have forgiven the sledgehammer approach for ninety minutes of mindless, throwaway entertainment. It never comes close to such modest expectations.

Steve Carell has always struggled when moving into Jim Carrey territory – most obviously in his follow-up to Bruce Almighty – and whilst his ‘fool act’ was tolerable in the likes of Anchorman, where he had a much smaller role within an ensemble, here he comes painfully unstuck. Unlike Carrey who had such success playing dim-wits in the likes of Dumb & Dumber, Carell doesn’t have the physique, the facial elasticity or persona to carry off goofy behaviour whilst retaining the audience’s empathy (even if he sports the same haircut as Carrey’s Lloyd Christmas character in Peter Farrelly laugh-out-loud original). He simply becomes infuriating. More so, when he’s given such inconsistent and barrel scraping material to work with.

The early premise made by Rudd’s over reactive partner is that laughing at people who are odd is wrong, yet all attempts at humour stem from mocking Carell’s Barry character, whose OTT appearance and behaviour is an attempt at milking as many laughs as possible from somebody who surely has a mental disability. Yet despite these tasteless sets up, where, for example, Barry is given a telephone number containing a series of 1’s and doesn’t understand the strange noise from the handset informing him he’s misdialled, he’s managed to retain a long-term job working for the IRS (perhaps a dig from clearly overpaid scriptwriters bemoaning their tax bill); has previously been married (although he had to look under the sofa and still couldn’t find the cliterous); and can create intricate and detailed dioramas, populated by dead mice he preserves, makes up and dresses in custom made costumes – yet you are supposed to believe he would find it impossible to get himself dressed in the morning.

Carrel has proven when he plays it straight – Dan In Real Life, Little Miss Sunshine – he’s a competent actor, but he comes unstuck when asked to absurdly destroy a stranger’s flat play fighting with a leather clad stalker. Although, in fairness, he never comes to Rudd’s do-gooder love interest for exasperating viewers.

As with Carrel, Rudd is another actor whose limitations were easily overlooked within Farrell’s star-vehicle Anchorman, and whilst he’s become the unfunny ‘go to’ comedy actor for Hollywood within recent years, he serves no purpose when the lead fails so miserably. He’s clearly type-cast as the ‘well off’, career type with a beautiful partner, who jeopardises it all once he makes acquaintance with a dysfunctional male. He’s diminutive and plain in a stereotypically good looking way, so he’ll never distract from the star turn of a Seth Rogen (Knocked Up) or Jason Segel (I Love You, Man), and, with no obvious failings, he’s perfectly credible when it comes to the requisite Hollywood schmaltzy ending, but the more Carrel floundered, the more dislikeable he became. His vacant expression throughout the film’s running time was the only appropriate inclusion, as we were asked to root for a selfish character who displayed only monetary greed and dishonesty throughout. No story or character arc prepared us for the clichéd ending, which is swiftly tagged on despite ample time to build up to such predictability.

That brings us to the film’s running time. Two hours is too long for most films, particularly comedies, and when you are throwing out so many misses, it’s arduous to say the least. Roach has form with the Meet The Parents and Austin Powers franchises, but there were enough original set pieces – and two confirmed comedy actors in Ben Stiller and Mike Myers respectably – to maintain interest in those earlier hits.

Producer Sacha Baron Cohen has proven with characters Ali G, Borat and Bruno that he has little shame, but hopefully he’ll show some red-faced humility in apologising to the likes of David Walliams, Zach Galifianakis and Kristen Schaal who provide the only guilty chuckles, although Lucy Punch (recently enjoying success in BBC 2’s Vexed) is made to look ridiculous as the crazed stalker that wants Carell to spank her like a school girl (“You’re a little old to be a school girl, aren’t you?”). Let’s also hope this isn’t a sign of things to come for Jermaine Clement, whose cult television hit Flight Of The Conchords is in a completely different league to this offering.

Dinner For Schmucks has somehow managed to be worse than any fan of the original could possibly have feared when the remake was announced. ‘Nuff said. DH

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