Film Review with Robert Mann – Dinner for Schmucks

Dinner for Schmucks ½

The journey from production to being released in cinemas has not been an easy one for Dinner for Schmucks. The latest directorial effort from Jay Roach, the man behind the hilarious Meet the Parents films and the (not quite as hilarious) Austin Powers movies, certainly has a lot of talent at its disposal with its cast including such comedy stars as Steve Carell, Paul Rudd and Zach Galifianakis, but rather than seeming like a slam dunk in terms of both film quality and box office potential as you might expect from a film with these credentials, the filmmakers were left reeling following a disastrous response at the film’s first test screening where the audience reacted extremely negatively with the consensus being that the film crossed the line and was “mean-spirited”. You see, this film, inspired by the 1998 French black comedy Le dȋner de cons by Francis Veber, has a premise that essentially borderlines on the offensive no matter how you look at it, its characters making fun of “idiots” just for fun and to an extent us viewers being encouraged to do exactly the same thing. The negative reaction at the test screening prompted the studio, producers, Carell and Roach to take another look at the film and attempt to rework the film to ensure that “the movie didn’t play in mean-spirited fashion” and when this new version of the film had its test screening, the film received a much warmer response and it this version of the film that we now get to see in cinemas. Sadly, however, (to use a somewhat puerile expression) you can’t polish a turd.

Up-and-coming executive Tim (Paul Rudd) is hoping for a big promotion, but first he has to pass a cruel and unusual test. Every month his boss Lance Fender (Bruce Greenwood) hosts a ‘dinner for idiots’, where he and his cronies each invite an unsuspecting patsy for the sole purpose of making fun of them. Horrified, Tim’s fiancée Julie (Stephanie Szostak) convinces him to skip the dinner, but that’s before Tim bumps into Barry (Steve Carell). A nerdish tax office worker who devotes his spare time to building elaborate dioramas featuring stuffed mice, Barry is the Holy Grail of idiots. Unable to resist, Tim invites Barry to the dinner, but things don’t work out quite as planned. Likeable Barry turns out to be a walking disaster area, and his blundering good intentions soon send Tim’s life into a frenzied downward spiral and a series of crazy comic misadventures.

Oh dear. All that reworking and Dinner for Schmucks is still the cinematic equivalent of having a lobotomy. Seriously, not only is the film still largely mean-spirited – even though, in the end, things do end on a (relatively) happy note for the “idiots” – but it is also almost entirely unfunny, borderline disturbing – the shots of the Barry showing off his “mousterpieces”, i.e. his collection of taxidermy mice dressed up in outfits, manage to come across as both cute and creepy at the same time – and a criminal waste of good talent. A disastrous screenplay lacking any wit or ingenuity offers up one lame gag and piece of dialogue after another, delivering the worst gag hit rate seen in a comedy for a long while. Only one scene in the entire film made this critic laugh and that one involved Barry meeting a couple of Switzerland and saying that he speaks some of their language before going on to speak like the Swedish Chef from The Muppets. When that is the highlight of a comedy, you just know that it is a complete disaster. The humour on display here is more likely to make you cringe than laugh and pretty much everyone involved should be ashamed to be involved. There again, based on the quality of performances on display here, perhaps they were. Paul Rudd spends most of the film just looking bored and delivers what is perhaps one of his worst performances to date. Steve Carell fares considerably better but, while seemingly trying to be amusing and succeeding to some extent, also comes across as just weak, even if he does make for an all too convincing “idiot”. And no one else in the cast fares any better, with everyone – Zach Galifianakis (as Barry’s fellow idiot boss Therman), David Walliams (as Swiss billionaire Müeller), Jemaine Clement (as artist Kieran who Tim thinks is trying to steal his girlfriend), Ron Livingston (as rival executive Caldwell) and Bruce Greenwood – failing to deliver even on a satisfactory level. Even if the performances were fantastic, however, the combination of dreadful writing and weak direction would likely have still made for a film that is more akin to torture than entertainment. Comedy is supposed to be funny. This film is not. Simply put, Dinner for Schmucks is not a movie but rather a disaster of epic proportions, a film so criminally bad that it is likely that only idiots will actually enjoy it.



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Review by Robert Mann BA (Hons)

© BRWC 2010.


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Alton loves film. He is founder and Editor In Chief of BRWC.  Some of the films he loves are Rear Window, Superman 2, The Man With The Two Brains, Clockwise, Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind, Trading Places, Stir Crazy and Punch-Drunk Love.

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