|Dinner For Schmucks | Directed by Jay Roach | Directed by Jay Roach | Written by David Guion and Michael Handelman based on Francis Veber’s The Dinner Game | with Steve Carell, Paul Rudd, Zach Galifianakis, Jemaine Clement, Stephanie Szostak, and Lucy Punch | Paramount Pictures | 109 minutes|
The difference between French and Hollywood filmmaking consists of more than just subtitles. Case in point: Jay Roach's fitfully hilarious but inert and repetitious adaptation of Francis Veber's 1998 comedy The Dinner Game
. In both films, rich guys put on a dinner to make fun of unwitting weird people. In The Dinner Game
, the rich-guy dinner guests are the schmucks — selfish, crass, cruel, and amoral — and the weird guy brought in as idiot entertainment is a sweet innocent. In Roach's version, however, the rich guy, Tim, is Paul Rudd in his standard role as a doofus who's misled and inept but basically decent. It's the weirdo, Barry, who's the schmuck; played by Steve Carell, he basically reprises his character in The Office
— vain, stupid, insuperably fatuous, and even less charming.
Why does this matter? Well, for one thing, the idiot is no longer the catalyst for the protagonist's self-discovery — he's merely a comic device that bludgeons you with shtick until the pat, preordained resolution rolls in, 100 minutes later. I could get high and mighty and say that a film with character development is artistically more accomplished. But more important, it's also a lot funnier.
To recap: Tim is a talented executive who finds that having the best ideas doesn't matter as much as fitting in with the top dogs at the company. To do so, he must agree to participate in their favorite amusement, the idiot contest described above. At first, he agrees with his hoity-toity gallery-owner girlfriend, Julie (Stephanie Szostak), that to do so would be immoral. But then he bumps into Barry and learns about Barry's hobby of creating storybook scenes using dead mice. Tim can't resist this godsend, so he invites Barry to the party, but it turns out that Barry (Carell adding to his Office persona a rodent imitation appropriate to the character) is a bigger asshole than any of them, and he batters Tim and the audience into submission with his boorish, irrepressible, occasionally funny obnoxiousness.
So much for the main characters and the plot. I found the supporting characters and the set design more diverting. In a film in which women in general are depicted as either ball-busting bitches or ball-busting sluts, Lucy Punch makes the most of dominatrix stalker Darla. Zach Galifianakis, whose uncategorizable brand of weirdness has not been well exploited on screen since The Hangover, has a few classic moments as Therman, Barry's boss at the IRS. Best of all is Jermaine Clement as the unabashedly demented and egocentric artist Kieran (imagine James Mason rigged out as a satyr, hoofs and all), a variation on the egocentric and deluded fantasy writer that made Gentleman Broncos worth watching.
The best part of Roach's film is the opening credit sequence, in which the montage of Barry's work is reminiscent of the GI Joe creations by outsider artist Mark Hogancamp in Jeff Malmberg's Marwencol. But when the most endearing character is a mouse corpse dressed in a tiny suit, you suspect that the rest of this Dinner might not agree with you.