Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Jay Roach
Stars: Steve Carell, Paul Rudd, Zach Galifianakis, David Walliams, Jermaine Clement.
Dinner For Schmucks is a Hollywood remake of the delightful and hilarious 1998 comedy The Dinner Game from prolific French writer/director Francis Veber. Veber is best known for his fast paced, slap stick comedies usually featuring odd couples caught in embarrassing situations and his films are perfect fodder for Hollywood remakes.
In The Dinner Gamea group of arrogant rich businessmen held regular dinner parties, and the guests were required to bring along the biggest idiot they could find so that they could maliciously poke fun at them. The person who brings the biggest “idiot” wins the game.
The premise remains much the same, although some details have been changed significantly. Ambitious stock analyst Tim Conrad (Paul Rudd) lands a wealthy client for his hedge fund firm, and is invited to attend the boss’s regular dinner party. As luck would have it he literally runs into Barry Speck (Carell), a naïve and clueless taxation clerk who builds elaborate dioramas featuring dead mice in historical tableaux. He thinks he has found the perfect guest for the party. But Barry proves to be a tornado of destruction who quickly turns Tim’s life upside down.
Veber’s brisk 80 minute original has been stretched out for a further 30 minutes here and some moments fall flat. The subplot involving Tim’s girlfriend and her relationship with a pretentious artist played by Jermaine Clement, of Flight Of The Conchords fame, is a distraction and actually adds little to the material. Unlike the original, here we get to see climactic dinner party itself, and it is an absolute hoot. Formidable comic talents as Little Britain’s David Walliams and The Hangover’s scene stealing Zach Galifianakis mercilessly raise the level of lunacy.
The script has been written by the pair of David Guion and Michael Handelman, whose only other screenplay was the disappointing The Ex. The director is Jay Roach, better known for the Austin Powers series and Meet The Parents. A dab hand at eliciting laughs from embarrassing situations, he directs with restraint for the most part. He also softens the mean spirit that shaped the French original and gets the balance between farcical humour and pathos just about right. There is a touch of humanity as it ultimately condemns the power games of the rich businessmen who taunt the underprivileged for their cruel form of sport.
Carell does well with a character who is too easy to laugh at and whom the script treats rather cruelly. Even though he is annoying and socially inept, Barry also becomes strangely endearing, thanks mainly to Carell’s subtle comic timing. Rudd is usually a likeable actor, and he plays his role rather deadpan, which contrasts nicely with Carell’s performance. Carell and Rudd appeared together previously in The 40-Year Old Virgin and Anchorman, and they quickly establish a wonderful rapport.
This retread of The Dinner Game has its moments of inspired comedy, but is nowhere near as consistently funny or as enjoyable as the original.