Saturday, July 31, 2010

"Dinner" Serves Up Few Laughs




Dinner for Schmucks (2010)
114 min., rated PG-13.
Grade: C -

Hollywood remakes of French farces have the reputation for being lame (read: "Pure Luck" and "Fathers' Day"), save for "The Birdcage," which was fourteen years ago. A forced, strained Americanization of France's "The Dinner Game (Le Diner de Cons)" from 1998, "Dinner for Schmucks" follows the trend and the same cleverly schmucked-up premise: big-shot suits invite a bunch of idiots (or schmucks) to a secret monthly dinner to laugh at them. 

Paul Rudd—the likably conflicted straight-man in the surefire pairing—is Tim, a financial analyst on his way up at a competitive private equity firm. But first he must impress his boss by bringing the biggest idiot to said dinner. When a nerdy IRS co-worker named Barry (Steve Carell) literally lands on Tim's windshield, he's the pluperfect schmuck who taxidermizes mice into dioramas. Shenanigans escalate. 

This broadly silly farce only has a spotty laugh ratio, Jay Roach directing an overlong script with too much heavy-handed, overworked slapstick and safe results. Carell is able to make Barry more schmucky and clueless than Michael Scott from TV's The Office with his goofy mugging and shit-eating-grin facial expressions by way of capped choppers; he's a “real” character. While strenuous and obnoxious beyond belief, Carell still gives the poor, unsuspecting schmuck humanity, which despite the mean corporate mentality brings to the film a bland home-stretch message of tolerance: Suits are jerks and schmucks are nice! Embrace, don't laugh at, idiots! Even before that, David Guion & Michael Handelman's ("The Ex") script makes Barry a plot construct of annoyingly contrived misunderstandings and disasters to disrupt the life of Tim and his gorgeous art-curator soon-to-be-fiancĂ©e Julie (a lovely Stephanie Szostack). 

And a lot of scenes are beaten to death by supporting schmucks and most of them equate to nails on a chalkboard (Lucy Punch's go-for-broke role as Tim's obsessed, crazily animalistic one-night-stand, Zach Galifianakis as Barry's creepy mind-controlling boss, and Jemaine Clement doing his typically bizarro shtick as a self-involved, pretentious performance artist). 

"Dinner for Schmucks" certainly brings on the schmucks at the film's centerpiece of the outrageous dinner, which wasn't even on-screen in the original, but by then the movie has worked awfully hard for laughs. The most original and cutely quirky parts of the film are the opening and postscript scenes of Barry's mice dioramas; they're a real “mouserpiece.” Not to be a snobby schmuck, but the shorter, subtler, and funnier French original is comparatively more worth seeing than this stupidization. 

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