I’m sure Steve Carell and Paul Rudd are among the nicest, funniest guests one could ever invite over for dinner. That being said, should anyone ever be unfortunate enough to break bread with their characters in Dinner For Schmucks, you’d likely commit seppuku with your butter knife before the entrées had even been cleared from the table. Jay Roach’s remake of the French farce Le Diner De Cons (The Dinner Game) is a complete and utter appetite suppressant. It’s overlong. It’s mean-spirited. It turns an entire feast of hilarious character actors into unbearable bores. It takes the concept of “cringe worthy comedy” to its logical conclusion, and beyond, all the way into the DMZ of “excrutiatingly unfunny comedy”. It’s also a contender for worst comedy of 2010, and lest we forget, Killers also came out this year.
Francis Veber’s Le Diner De Cons is hardly a masterpiece, but it’s a very funny film with some biting satire thrown in for good measure. As far as remakes go, Dinner For Schmucks gets almost everything humanly imaginable wrong, right down to its eye-roll-inducing title (Hollywood: The land of subtlety and nuance!). Bear with me as I note the ways in which Roach’s film (perhaps bravely?) challenges the very notions of comedy and entertainment.
Paul Rudd stars as Tim Conrad, a mid-level executive angling for a promotion at his financial firm. He’s somewhat affable, mildly self-centered and entirely boring. His boss Lance Fender (Bruce Greenwood) offers Tim a new plum role, but there’s an entirely unprovoked and unreasonable catch: Tim must attend Fender’s monthly “dinner for idiots”, in which his fellow rich friends invite the strangest fools they can find for their evening’s entertainment.
Tim is appalled at first, but when he (literally) runs into IRS employee/amateur taxidermist Barry Speck (Carell), he believes the universe has bestowed upon him an idiot ripe for the exploiting. However, over the course of the next 24 hours the intensely-dim Barry accidentally destroys Tim’s life, potentially ruining his relationship with a new client (David Walliams), accidentally inciting the advances of a crazed stalker (Lucy Punch) and sending Tim’s girlfriend (Stephanie Szostak) into the arms of an animalistic painter (Jemaine Clement – the film’s one and only bright light).
In The Dinner Game, the Tim Conrad-character is an unrepentant jerk who attends a weekly idiots’ dinner. When the Barry Speck-character begins to unwittingly destroy his life, we are meant to applaud the sweet karmic justice. Here, we are meant to sympathise with Paul Rudd (despite the fact that he is deserving of his punishment) AND Steve Carell (despite the fact that he is perhaps the most annoying human being in history). For so much of the film, Carrell’s character is the butt of the joke, when it really should be Rudd. When we are eventually introduced to the rest of the fools at the titular dinner, they are not so much painted as idiots as mentally ill. But still, they’re the butt of the joke. And when Roach and screenwriter Connie Mendoza lazily try to turn the scorn back upon the film’s real villains in the final reel, it feels forced and completely unsatisfying. At no point are we offered the opportunity to laugh at their misfortune; at least, not as often as we are asked to laugh at the man with multiple moustaches.
Rudd is usually an endlessly likable everyman, and no one is better than Carell at crafting annoying characters with a lovably humane side. They’re two great flavours that traditionally go great together, but it would take much more than their natural charm to make these characters watchable. In fact, I suppose it’s a testament to the talented cast that this flick isn’t any worse. Imagine if Dinner For Schmucks had been cast with Dane Cook, Dan Fogler and Jason Biggs. So, in a way, this movie’s a success? Right?
Dinner For Schmucks is now showing in Australian cinemas.