Film Review: Dinner for Schmucks
2010 – 114mn – 12A Directed by Jay Roach. Starring Paul Rudd, Steve Carell, Zach Galifinakis, Jermaine Clement.
DINNER for Schmucks is another Hollywood remake, starring Paul Rudd as Tim, a businessman whose promotion depends on his participation in a bizarre company tradition. The dinner is hosted by his boss and guests must bring an idiot to be mocked by the rest of the party.
Tim’s a good guy, so even though he deserves this promotion, and has waited for it forever, he questions the cynicism of the dinner. But then he meets Barry (Steve Carell), who might just be the perfect guest…
The French original released in 1998, is an absolute masterpiece, a surprising, warm, irreverent farce. It is also very, very French – a vital ingredient, and the main thing the US version misses. Rudd’s equivalent in the original played by Thierry Lhermitte was given room to be rude, selfish, and disloyal – in other words, Parisian. Rudd’s Tim is cut from the same cloth as every other Paul Rudd character: sweet, a little hapless, he gets caught up in things and ends up in trouble. In the same way, the “schmuck” of the original was a properly irritating, extremely provincial dimwit. He’s a droning public servant who makes matchstick figures of monuments in his spare time. Carell’s incarnation is a kind-hearted dork who makes gorgeous quite good art using stuffed rodents. It’s as if the American filmmakers are, typically, fearful of offending their audience. Barry can’t be too thick, and Tim can’t be too mean, so they both settle for bland. Their odd couple isn’t very odd.
It doesn’t help that the script as adapted is formulaic, overlong, and inconsistent. The original film was so tight they never actually had to show the dinner itself: here it takes up a good third of the movie, and it’s packed with tired, anticlimactic improvisation. The end result is a bit flat and a bit muddled.
It’s not all bad – there’s plenty of comedy firepower in the cast, and these are performers who could wring laughs out of anything. The always reliable Rudd and Carell are accompanied by The Hangover’s Zach Galifinakis, Flight of the Conchords’s Jermaine Clement and Kristen Schaal, Office Space’s Ron Livingston, even David Walliams. If the casting feels overly safe, at least the actors serve up enough chuckles along the way to save Dinner for Schmucks from being a disgrace.
It is, however, entirely forgettable.