For about 12 years now, Hollywood has been trying to get an American remake off the ground for an adaptation of Francis Veber’s original Le dîner de cons, or The Dinner Game. Numerous versions of screenplays have failed to make their way to the big screen and the cast has gone through even more variations. Finally, featuring an all star cast of today’s top comic actors, comes Dinner for Schmucks.
The original was written and directed by renowned French farcist Francis Veber and I’m sure it certainly has helped to have him tag along as an executive producer. It’s also interesting to see that neither he nor fellow executive producer Sacha Baron Cohen is listed on the film’s IMDb page. But a farce is a farce and you either love ‘em or hate ‘em, and I love ‘em.
As everyone knows, a farce is of course based more on situational comedy than deep characterization. It’s how everything comes together with events snowballing from one thing to the next mixed with great banter and a smattering of broad slapstick that keeps the plot moving along. Director Jay Roach certainly knows a thing or two about uncomfortable hilarity. After having directed both Meet the Parents and Meet the Fockers, there’s no doubt why he was chosen as mastermind to bring David Guion and Michael Handelman’s script to life.
Guion and Handelman’s last produced screenplay was another farce that no one saw starring Zach Braff and Jason Bateman called The Ex. While in no way a classic, it definitely lives up to the expectations of the genre and may be why American audiences shunned it, handing it a quick box office death. Here the filmmakers definitely have a great appreciation for the original and Roach even seems to try to keep things a little French with some of the score’s themes. I haven’t seen The Dinner Game in years but it wouldn’t surprise me if the main theme of Schmucks was lifted by Theodore Shapiro from the original film.
Tim (Paul Rudd) works, with his assistant Susana (Kristen Schaal), on the sixth floor of Fender Financial where it smells like cabbage. While the scent has never kept Susana from getting laid, they both just want to move up to the seventh floor with the rest of the executives. Tim has a plan to impress his boss Lance Fender (Bruce Greenwood) and informs everyone during a meeting that he has already spoken with Swiss billionaire Müeller (David Williams) about a business proposition involving unarmed bombs turned into lamps and Fender’s company taking over as his asset advisors.
Fender invites Tim to join them in an empty corner office and hints that Tim is eligible for a promotion if he participates in what he calls a “dinner for idiots.” Everyone must bring a guest of idiotic proportions; the biggest dolt wins. Tim accepts the invitation but his long-term girlfriend Julie (Stephanie Szostak) can’t believe that Tim would even consider taking part in such a cruel game. As expected, Tim literally runs into Barry (Steve Carell), who’s trying to save a dead mouse in the street for his latest “mousterpiece” and wants no compensation for injury as he is totally in awe of just being hit by a Porsche. He says he’s been hit many times but never by one of these.
Tim is instantly smitten with Barry’s innocent, wide-eyed doltishness and of course invites him to dinner. To say much more of the plot would totally ruin the surprises but what should come as no surprise is how hilarious the rapport is between Rudd and Carell. Alas, in grand tradition, white lies are spilled, miscommunication happens, and hilarity ensues. It also must be said that it’s Barry’s innocence and general good will that makes him really such a nice guy. While you truly empathize with Barry, as Tim explains to Juile, “He’s a sweet guy, but he is a tornado of destruction.”
Director Roach and the screenplay do allow things to run a little on the long side but it could just seem that way as so many of the scenes have you wriggling uncomfortably one minute then bursting with laughter the next. And when the rest of the cast features everyone from Zach Galifianakis, Jemaine Clement, Ron Livingston (playing an extension of his Office Space character), and Jeff Dunham (playing a dinner guest who’s “married” to a slutty ventriloquist’s dummy), you should know what you’re in for. Clowning around tends to be the name of the game most of the time, but with these guests, who wouldn’t want to be invited to this Dinner for Schmucks?
Photo courtesy Paramount Pictures