Guess who’s coming to dinner
Dinner for Schmucks
I gather “schmuck” is the Yiddish word for the piece of the foreskin that is removed during circumcision. Similarly, the French film from which this is derived, known in English as The Dinner Game (a much more subtle title which doesn’t give the game away) is actually Le Diner de Cons – and “con” in French is tantamount to calling someone the C-word, but without quite the bad-ass-offensiveness of calling them the C-word. So perhaps in fact the Americans inadvertently pitched this right…
In any event. The French do farce well (even if, in my humble opinion, they overdo it) but unfortunately in taking not just the theme of the original film but also the notions of bumbling, physical comedy and ludicrous misunderstandings, Dinner for Schmucks ultimately misses its mark. Steve Carrell, reliable as always in the titular role, is a simple-minded IRS agent whose hobby is constructing tableaux of mice couples happily in love. Paul Rudd, reliable as always as the straight, fairly likeable guy, is Tim the stockbroker who invites Carrell’s Barry to his boss’ for dinner in order to secure a promotion. The thing being, the dinner is actually a contest to bring the biggest idiot and laugh at his/her expense.
Most of the film constitutes a big Shakespearean mess of mistaken identity and silly posturing, well-meaning but wrong-headed interference on Barry’s part, and Tim’s crisis of conscience as the dinner date draws near, and he loses his beloved girlfriend, Julie. To pad out the many hours needed to cement Barry and Tim’s unlikely friendship, we are treated to supporting characters played by comedy stalwarts David Walliams (from “Little Britain”) and “Flight of the Conchords”‘ Jemaine Clement, who almost acts Carrell off the park bench in one scene. Other excruciating parts include up-and-coming comedian Zach Galifianakis as Barry’s mind-controlling boss, and the extraordinary-looking Lucy Punch (normally quite attractive, IMDb assures me, but channelling Marilyn Manson in this role).
Mostly, this film is just silly. And not in a new, clever or good way. Carrell acquits himself admirably given the script, and the mouse-taxidermy element to his character is actually very touching (the opening titles are a highlight of the film, and set up his dinner party presentation beautifully). But on the whole the film is not the sum of its parts, and in any event only some of the parts elicit a laugh. If they were going to improve on the original then this might have been worth making, but ultimately the schmucks should have left it to the cons.